Fairy Tales and Other Stories (Andersen, Craigie)/The Travelling Companion
THE TRAVELLING COMPANION
Poor John was in great tribulation, for his father was very ill, and could not get well again. Except these two, there was no one at all in the little room: the lamp on the table was nearly extinguished, and it was quite late in the evening.
'You have been a good son, John,' said the sick father, 'Providence will help you through the world.' And he looked at him with mild earnest eyes, drew a deep breath, and died: it was Just as if he slept. But John wept; for now he had no one in the world, neither father nor mother, neither sister nor brother. Poor John! He knelt down beside the bed, kissed his dead father's hand, and shed very many salt tears; but at last his eyes closed, and he went to sleep, Ijang with his head against the hard bed-board.
Then he dreamed a strange dream: he saw the sun and moon curtsy to him, and he beheld his father again, fresh and well, and he heard his father laugh as he had always laughed when he was very glad. A beautiful girl, with a golden crown upon her long beautiful hair, gave him her hand; and his father said, 'Do you see what a bride you have gained? She is the most beautiful in the whole world!' Then he awoke, and all the splendour was gone. His father was lying dead and cold in the bed, and there was no one at all with them. Poor John!
In the next week the dead man was buried. The son walked close behind the coffin, and could now no longer see the good father who had loved him so much. He heard how they threw the earth down upon the coffin, and stopped to see the last corner of it; but the next shovel-full of earth hid even that; then he felt just as if his heart would burst into pieces, so sorrowful was he. Around him they were singing a psalm; it sounded so beautifully, and the tears came into John's eyes; he wept, and that did him good in his sorrow. The sun shone magnificently on the green trees, just as if it would have said, 'You shall no longer be sorrowful, John! Do you see how beautifully blue the sky is? Your father is up there, and prays to the Father of all that it may be always well with you.'
'I will always be good,' said John, then I shall go to heaven to my father; and what joy that will be when we see each other again! How much I shall then have to tell him! and he will show me so many things, and explain to me so much of the glories of heaven, just as he taught me here on earth. Oh, how joyful that will be!'
He pictured that to himself so plainly, that he smiled, while the tears were still rolling down his cheeks. The little birds sat up in the chestnut trees, and twittered, ‘Tweet-weet! tweet-weet!’ They were joyful and merry, though they had been at the burying, but they knew quite well that the dead man was now in heaven; that he had wings, far larger and more beautiful than theirs; that he was now happy, because he had been a good man upon earth, and they were glad at it. John saw how they flew from the green trees out into the world, and he felt inclined to fly too. But first he cut out a great cross of wood to put on his father's grave; and when he brought it there in the evening the grave was decked with sand and flowers; strangers had done this, for they were all very fond of the good father who was now dead.
Early next morning John packed his little bundle, and put in his belt his whole inheritance, which consisted of fifty dollars and a few silver shillings; with this he intended to wander out into the world. But first he went to the churchyard, to his father's grave, repeated the Lord's Prayer, and said, 'Farewell, dear father, I will always be good, and so you may well venture to pray to the good God that things may go well with me.'
Out in the field where he was walking all the flowers stood fresh and beautiful in the warm sunshine; and they nodded in the wind, just as if they would have said, 'Welcome to the green wood! Is it not fine here?' But John turned back once more to look at the old church, in which he had been christened when he was a little child, and where he had been every Sunday with his father at the service, and had sung his psalm; then, high up in one of the openings of the tower, he saw the church-goblin standing in his little pointed red cap, shading his face with his bent arm, to keep the sun from shining in his eyes. John nodded a farewell to him, and the little goblin waved his red cap, laid his hand on his heart, and kissed his hand to John a great many times, to show that he wished the traveller well and hoped he would have a prosperous journey.
John thought what a number of fine things he would get to see in the great splendid world; and he went on farther—farther than he had ever been before. He did not know the places at all through which he came, nor the people whom he met. Now he was far away in a strange region.
The first night he was obliged to lie under a haystack in the field to sleep, for he had no other bed But that was very nice, he thought; the king could not be better off. There was the whole field, with the brook, the haystack, and the blue sky above it; that was certainly a beautiful sleeping-room. The green grass with the little red and white flowers was the carpet; the elder bushes and the wild rose hedges were garlands of flowers; and for a wash-hand basin he had the whole brook with the clear fresh water, where the sedges bowed before him and wished him 'good evening' and 'good morning '. The moon was certainly a great night-lamp, high up under the blue ceiling, and that lamp would never set fire to the curtains with its light. John could sleep quite quietly, and he did so, and never woke until the sun rose and all the little birds were singing around, 'Good morning! good morning! Are you not up yet?'
The bells were ringing for church; it was Sunday. The people went to hear the preacher, and John followed them, and sang a psalm and heard God's Word. It seemed to him just as if he was in his own church, where he had been christened and had sung psalms with his father.
Out in the churchyard were many graves, and on some of them the grass grew high. Then he thought of his father's grave, which would at last look like these, as he could not weed it and adorn it. So he sat down and plucked up the long grass, set up the wooden crosses which had fallen down, and put back in their places the wreaths which the wind had blown away from the graves; for he thought, 'Perhaps some one will do the same to my father's grave, as I cannot do it.'
Outside the churchyard gate stood an old beggar, leaning upon his crutch. John gave him the silver shillings which he had, and then went away, happy and cheerful, into the wide world. Towards evening the weather became terribly bad. He made haste to get under shelter, but dark night soon came on; then at last he came to a little church, which lay quite solitary on a small hill.
The door luckily stood ajar, and he crept in; here he decided to remain till the storm had gone down.
'Here I will sit down in a corner,' said he; 'I am quite tired and require a little rest.' Then he sat down, folded his hands, and said his evening prayer; and before he was aware of it he was asleep and dreaming, while it thundered and lightened without.
When he woke it was midnight; but the bad weather had passed by, and the moon shone in upon him through the windows. In the midst of the church stood an open coffin with a dead man in it who had not yet been buried. John was not at all timid, for he had a good conscience; and he knew very well that the dead do not harm any one. It is living people who do harm. Two such living bad men stood close by the dead man, who had been placed here in the church till he should be buried. They had an evil design against him, and would not let him rest quietly in his coffin, but were going to throw him out before the church door—the poor dead man!
'Why will you do that?' asked John; 'that is wrong and wicked. Let him rest, for mercy's sake.'
'Nonsense!' replied the bad men; 'he has cheated us. He owed us money and could not pay it, and now he's dead into the bargain, and we shall not get a penny! So we mean to revenge ourselves properly: he shall lie like a dog outside the church door!'
'I have not more than fifty dollars,' cried John, 'that is my whole inheritance; but I will gladly give it you, if you will honestly promise me to leave the poor dead man in peace. I shall manage to get on without the money; I have hearty strong limbs, and Heaven will always help me.'
'Yes,' said these ugly bad men, 'if you will pay his debt we will do nothing to him, you may depend upon that!' And then they took the money he gave them, laughed aloud at his good nature, and went their way. But he laid the corpse out again in the coffin, and folded its hands, took leave of it, and went away contentedly through the great forest.
All around, wherever the moon could shine through between the trees, he saw the graceful little elves playing merrily. They did not let him disturb them; they knew that he was a good innocent lad; and it is only the bad people who never can see the elves. Some of them were not larger than a finger, and had fastened up their long yellow hair with golden combs: they were rocking themselves, two and two, on the great dew-drops that lay on the leaves and on the high grass; sometimes the drop rolled away, and then they fell down between the long grass-stalks, and that occasioned much laughter and noise among the other little creatures. It was extremely amusing. They sang, and John recognized quite plainly the pretty songs which he had learned as a little boy. Great coloured spiders, with silver crowns on their heads, had to spin long hanging bridges and palaces from hedge to hedge; and as the tiny dew-drops fell on these they looked like gleaming glass in the moonlight. This continued until the sun rose. Then the little elves crept into the flower-buds, and the wind caught their bridges and palaces, which flew through the air in the shape of spider's webs.
John had just come out of the wood, when a strong man's voice called out behind him, 'Halloo, comrade! whither are you journeying?'
'Into the wide world!' he replied. 'I have neither father nor mother, and am but a poor lad; but Providence will help me.'
'I am going out into the wide world, too,' said the strange man: 'shall we two keep one another company?'
'Yes, certainly,' said John; and so they went on together. Soon they became very fond of each other, for they were both good souls. But John saw that the stranger was much more clever than himself. He had travelled through almost the whole world, and could tell of almost everything that existed.
The sun already stood high when they seated themselves under a great tree to eat their breakfast; and just then an old woman came up. Oh, she was very old, and walked quite bent, leaning upon a crutch; upon her back she carried a bundle of firewood which she had collected in the forest. Her apron was tucked up, and John saw that three great stalks of fern and some willow twigs stuck out of it. When she was close to them, her foot slipped; she fell and gave a loud scream, for she had broken her leg, the poor old woman!
John directly proposed that they should carry the old woman home to her dwelling; but the stranger opened
his knapsack, took out a little jar, and said that he had a salve there which would immediately make her leg whole and strong, so that she could walk home herself, as if she had never broken her leg at all. But for that he required that she should give him the three rods which she carried in her apron,
'That would be paying well!' said the old woman, and she nodded her head in a strange way. She did not like to giveaway the rods, but then it was not agreeable to lie there with a broken leg. So she gave him the wands; and as soon as he had only rubbed the ointment on her leg, the old mother arose, and walked much better than before—such was the power of this ointment. But then it was not to be bought at the chemist's.
'What do you want with the rods?' John asked his travelling companion.
'They are three capital fern brooms,' replied he. 'I like those very much, for I am a whimsical fellow.'
And they went on a good way.
'See how the sky is becoming overcast,' said John, pointing straight before them. 'Those are terribly thick clouds.'
'No,' replied his travelling companion, 'those are not clouds, they are mountains—the great glorious mountains, on which one gets quite up over the clouds, and into the free air. Believe me, it is delicious! To-morrow we shall certainly be far out into the world.'
But that was not so near as it looked; they had to walk for a whole day before they came to the mountains, where the black woods grew straight up towards heaven, and there were stones almost as big as a whole town. It might certainly be hard work to get quite across them, and for that reason John and his comrade went into the inn to rest themselves well, and gather strength for the morrow's journey.
Down in the great common room in the inn many guests were assembled, for a man was there exhibiting a puppet-show. He had just put up his little theatre, and the people were sitting round to see the play. Quite in front a fat old butcher had taken his seat in the very best place; his great bulldog, who looked very much inclined to bite, sat at his side, and made big eyes, as all the rest were doing.
Now the play began; and it was a very nice play, with a king and a queen in it; they sat upon a velvet throne, and had gold crowns on their heads and long trains to their cloaks, for their means admitted of that. The prettiest of wooden dolls with glass eyes and great moustaches stood at all the doors, and opened and shut them so that fresh air might come into the room. It was a very pleasant play, and not at all mournful. But—goodness knows what the big bulldog can have been thinking of!—just as the queen stood up and was walking across the boards, as the fat butcher did not hold him, he made a spring upon the stage, and seized the queen round her slender waist so that it cracked again. It was quite terrible!
The poor man who managed the play was very much frightened and quite sorrowful about his queen, for she was the daintiest little doll he possessed, and now the ugly bulldog had bitten off her head. But afterwards, when the people went away, the stranger said that he would put her to rights again; and then he brought out his little jar, and rubbed the doll with the ointment with which he had cured the old woman when she broke her leg. As soon as the doll had been rubbed, she was whole again; yes, she could even move all her limbs by herself; it was no longer necessary to pull her by her string. The doll was like a living person, only that she could not speak. The man who had the little puppet-show was very glad, now he had not to hold this doll any more. She could dance by herself, and none of the others could do that.
When night came on, and all the people in the inn had gone to bed, there was some one who sighed so fearfully, and went on doing it so long, that they all got up to see who this could be. The man who had shown the play went to his little theatre, for it was there that somebody was sighing. All the wooden dolls lay mixed together, the king and all his followers; and it was they who sighed so pitiably, and stared with their big glass eyes; for they wished to be rubbed a little as the queen had been, so that they might be able to move by themselves. The queen at once sank on her knees, and stretched forth her beautiful crown, as if she begged, 'Take this from me, but rub my husband and my courtiers!' Then the poor man, the proprietor of the little theatre and the dolls, could not refrain from weeping, for he was really sorry for them. He immediately promised the travelling companion that he would give him all the money he should receive the next evening for the performance if the latter would only anoint four or five of his dolls. But the comrade said he did not require anything at all but the sword the man wore by his side; and, on receiving this, he anointed six of the dolls, who immediately began to dance so gracefully that all the girls, the living human girls, fell a dancing too. The coachman and the cook danced, the waiter and the chambermaid, and all the strangers, and the fire-shovel and tongs; but these latter fell down just as they made their first leaps. Yes, it was a merry night!
Next morning John went away from them all with his travelling companion, up on to the high mountains, and through the great pine woods. They came so high up that the church steeples under them looked at last like little red berries among all the green; and they could see very far, many, many miles away, where they had never been. So much splendour in the lovely world John had never seen at one time before. And the sun shone warm in the fresh blue air, and among the mountains he could hear the huntsmen blowing their horns so gaily and sweetly that tears came into his eyes, and he could not help calling out, 'How kind has Heaven been to us all, to give us all the splendour that is in this world!'
The travelling companion also stood there with folded hands, and looked over the forest and the towns in the warm sunshine. At the same time there arose lovely sounds over their heads: they looked up, and a great white swan was soaring in the air, and singing as they had never heard a bird sing till then. But the song became weaker and weaker; he bowed his head and sank quite slowly down at their feet, where he lay dead, the beautiful bird!
'Two such splendid wings,' said the travelling companion, ' so white and large, as those which this bird has, are worth money; I will take them with me. Do you see that it was good I got a sabre?'
And so, with one blow, he cut off both the wings of the dead swan, for he wanted to keep them.
They now travelled for many, many miles over the mountains, till at last they saw a great town before them with hundreds of towers, which glittered like silver in the sun. In the midst of the town was a splendid marble palace, roofed with red gold. And there the king lived.
John and the travelling companion would not go into the town at once, but remained in the inn outside the town, that they might dress themselves; for they wished to look nice when they came out into the streets. The host told them that the king was a very good man, who never did harm to any one; but his daughter, yes, goodness preserve us! she was a bad princess. She possessed beauty enough—no one could be so pretty and so charming as she was—but of what use was that? She was a wicked witch, through whose fault many gallant princes had lost their lives. She had given permission to all men to seek her hand. Any one might come, be he prince or beggar; it was all the same to her. He had only to guess three things about which she questioned him. If he could do that she would marry him, and he was to be king over the whole country when her father should die; but if he could not guess the three things, she caused him to be hanged or to have his head cut off! So evil and so wicked was the beautiful princess. Her father, the old king, was very sorry about it; but he could not forbid her to be so wicked, because he had once said that he would have nothing to do with her lovers; she might do as she liked. Every time a prince came, and was to guess to gain the princess, he was unable to do it, and was hanged or lost his head. He had been warned in time, you see, and might have given over his wooing. The old king was so sorry for all this misery and woe, that he used to go down on his knees with all his soldiers for a whole day in every year, praying that the princess might become good; but she would not, by any means. The old women who drank brandy used to colour it quite black before they drank it, they were in such deep mourning—and they certainly could not do more.
'The ugly princess!' said John; 'she ought really to have the rod; that would do her good. If I were only the old king she should be punished!'
Then they heard the people outside shouting 'Hurrah!' The princess came by; and she was really so beautiful that all the people forgot how wicked she was, and that is why they cried 'Hurrah!' Twelve beautiful virgins, all in white silk gowns, and each with a golden tulip in her hand, rode on coal-black steeds at her side. The princess herself had a snow-white horse, decked with diamonds and rubies. Her riding-habit was all of cloth of gold, and the whip she held in her hand looked like a sunbeam; the golden crown on her head was just like little stars out of the sky, and her mantle was sewn together out of more than a thousand beautiful butterflies' wings. In spite of this, she herself was much more lovely than all her clothes.
When John saw her, his face became as red as a drop of blood, and he could hardly utter a word. The princess looked just like the beautiful lady with the golden crown, of whom he had dreamt on the night when his father died. He thought her so enchanting that he could not help loving her greatly. It could not be true that she was a wicked witch, who caused people to be hanged or beheaded if they could not guess the riddles she put to them.
'Every one has permission to aspire to her hand, even the poorest beggar. I will really go to the castle, for I cannot help doing it!'
They all told him not to attempt it, for certainly he would fare as all the rest had done. His travelling companion too tried to dissuade him; but John thought it would end well. He brushed his shoes and his coat, washed his face and his hands, combed his beautiful yellow hair, and then went quite alone into the town and to the palace,
'Come in!' said the old king, when John knocked at the door.
John opened it, and the old king came towards him in a dressing-gown and embroidered slippers; he had the crown on his head, and the sceptre in one hand and the orb in the other. 'Wait a little!' said he, and put the orb under his arm, so that he could reach out his hand to John. But as soon as he learned that his visitor was a suitor, he began to weep so violently that both the sceptre and the orb fell to the ground, and he was obliged to wipe his eyes with his dressing-gown. Poor old king!
'Give it up!' said he. 'You will fare badly, as all the others have done. Well, you shall see!'
Then he led him out into the princess's pleasure-garden. There was a terrible sight! In every tree there hung three or four kings' sons who had wooed the princess, but had not been able to guess the riddles she proposed to them. Each time that the breeze blew all the skeletons rattled, so that the little birds were frightened, and never dared to come into the garden. All the flowers were tied up to human bones, and in the flower-pots skulls stood and grinned. That was certainly a garden for a princess.
'Here you see it,' said the old king. 'It will chance to you as it has chanced to all these whom you see here; therefore you had better give it up. You will really make me unhappy, for I take these things very much to heart.'
John kissed the good old king's hand, and said it would go well, for that he was quite enchanted with the beautiful princess.
Then the princess herself came riding into the courtyard, with all her ladies; and they went out to her and wished
her good morning. She was beautiful to look at, and she gave John her hand. And he cared much more for her then than before—she could certainly not be a wicked witch, as the people asserted. Then they betook themselves to the hall, and the little pages waited upon them with preserves and gingerbread nuts. But the old king was quite sorrowful; he could not eat anything at all. Besides, gingerbread nuts were too hard for him.
It was settled that John should come to the palace again the next morning; then the judges and the whole council would be assembled, and would hear how he succeeded with his answers. If it went well, he should come twice more; but no one had yet come who had succeeded in guessing right the first time, and so they had to lose their lives.
John was not at all anxious as to how he should fare. On the contrary, he was merry, thought only of the beautiful princess, and felt quite certain that he should be helped; but how he did not know, and preferred not to think of it. He danced along on the road returning to the inn, where his travelling companion was waiting for him.
John could not leave off telling how polite the princess had been to him, and how beautiful she was. He declared he already longed for the next day, when he was to go into the palace and try his luck in guessing.
But the travelling companion shook his head and was quite downcast. 'I am so fond of you!' said he. 'We might have been together a long time yet, and now I am to lose you already! You poor dear John! I should like to cry, but I will not disturb your merriment on the last evening, perhaps, we shall ever spend together. We will be merry, very merry! To-morrow, when you are gone, I can weep undisturbed.'
All the people in the town had heard directly that a new suitor for the princess had arrived; and there was great sorrow on that account. The theatre remained closed; the women who sold cakes tied bits of crape round their sugar pigs, and the king and the priests were on their knees in the churches. There was great lamentation; for John would not, they all thought, fare better than the other suitors had fared.
Towards evening the travelling companion mixed a great bowl of punch, and said to John, 'Now we will be very merry, and drink to the health of the princess.' But when John had drunk two glasses, he became so sleepy that he found it impossible to keep his eyes open, and he sank into a deep sleep. The travelling companion lifted him very gently from his chair, and laid him in the bed; and when it grew to be dark night, he took the two great wings which he had cut off the swan, and bound them to his own shoulders. Then he put in his pocket the longest of the rods he had received from the old woman who had fallen and broken her leg; and he opened the window and flew away over the town, straight towards the palace, where he seated himself in a corner under the window which looked into the bedroom of the princess.
All was quiet in the whole town. Now the clock struck a quarter to twelve, the window was opened, and the princess came out in a long white cloak, and with black wings, and flew away across the town to a great mountain. But the travelling companion made himself invisible, so that she could not see him at all, and flew behind her, and whipped the princess with his rod, so that the blood actually came wherever he struck. Oh, that was a voyage through the air! The wind caught her cloak, so that it spread out on all sides like a great sail, and the moon shone through it.
'How it hails! how it hails!' said the princess at every blow she got from the rod; and it served her right. At last she arrived at the mountain, and knocked there. There was a rolling like thunder, as the mountain opened, and the princess went in. The travelling companion followed her, for no one could see him—he was invisible. They went through a great long passage, where the walls shone in quite a peculiar way: there were more than a thousand glowing spiders running up and down the walls and gleaming like fire. Then they came into a great hall built of silver and gold; flowers as big as sunflowers, red and blue, shone on the walls; but no one could pluck these flowers, for the stems were ugly poisonous snakes, and the flowers were streams of fire pouring out of their mouths. The whole ceiling was covered with shining glowworms and sky-blue bats, flapping their thin wings. It looked quite terrific! In the middle of the floor was a throne, carried by four skeleton horses, with harness of fiery red spiders; the throne itself was of milk-white glass, and the cushions were little black mice, biting each other's tails. Above it was a canopy of pink spider's web, trimmed with the prettiest little green flies, which gleamed like jewels. On the throne sat an old magician, with a crown on his ugly head and a sceptre in his hand. He kissed the princess on the forehead, made her sit down beside him on the costly throne, and then the music began. Great black grasshoppers played on jews'-harps, and the owl beat her wings upon her body, because she hadn't a drum. That was a strange concert! Little black goblins with a Jack-o'-lantern light on their caps danced about in the hall. But no one could see the travelling companion: he had placed himself just behind the throne, and heard and saw everything. The courtiers, who now came in, were very grand and stately; but he who could see it all knew very well what it all meant. They were nothing more than broomsticks with heads of cabbages on them, which the magician had animated by his power, and to whom he had given embroidered clothes. But that did not matter, for, you see, they were only wanted for show.
After there had been a little dancing, the princess told the magician that she had a new suitor, and therefore she inquired of him what she should think of to ask the suitor when he should come to-morrow to the palace.
'Listen!' said the magician, 'I will tell you that: you must choose something very easy, for then he won't think of it. Think of one of your shoes. That he will not guess. Let him have his head cut off: but don't forget, when you come to me to-morrow night, to bring me his eyes, for I'll eat them.'
The princess curtsied very low, and said she would not forget the eyes. The magician opened the mountain, and she flew home again; but the travelling companion followed her, and beat her again so hard with the rod that she sighed quite deeply about the heavy hail-storm, and hurried as much as she could to get back into the bedroom through the open window. The travelling companion, for his part, flew back to the inn, where John was still asleep, took off his wings, and then lay down upon the bed, for he might well be tired.
It was quite early in the morning when John awoke. The travelling companion also got up, and said he had had a wonderful dream in the night, about the princess and her shoe; and he therefore begged John to ask if the princess had not thought about her shoe. For it was this he had heard from the magician in the mountain.
But he would not tell John anything about that; he merely told him to ask if she had not thought about one of her shoes,
'I may just as well ask about that as about anything else,' said John. 'Perhaps it is quite right, what you have dreamed. But I will bid you farewell; for, if I guess wrong, I shall never see you more.'
Then they embraced each other, and John went into the town and to the palace. The entire hall was filled with people: the judges sat in their arm-chairs and had eider-down pillows behind their heads, for they had a great deal to think about. The old king stood up, and wiped his eyes with a white pocket-handkerchief. Now the princess came in. She was much more beautiful than yesterday, and bowed to all in a very affable manner; but to John she gave her hand, and said, 'Good morning to you.'
Now John was to guess what she had thought of. Oh, how lovingly she looked at him! But as soon as she heard the single word 'shoe' pronounced, she became as white as chalk in the face, and trembled all over. But that availed her nothing, for John had guessed right!
Wonderful! How glad the old king was! He threw a somersault beautiful to behold. And all the people clapped their hands in honour of him and of John, who had guessed right the first time!
The travelling companion beamed with delight, when he heard how well matters had gone. But John folded his hands and thanked God, who certainly would help him also the second and third time. The next day he was to guess again.
The evening passed just like that of yesterday. While John slept the travelling companion flew behind the princess out to the mountain, and beat her even harder than the time before, for now he had taken two rods. No one saw him, and he heard everything. The princess was to think of her glove; and this again he told to John as if it had been a dream. Thus John could guess correctly, which caused great rejoicing in the palace. The whole court threw somersaults, just 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, the question was, if John could guess properly the third time. If he succeeded, he was to have the beautiful princess and inherit the whole kingdom after the old king's death. If he failed, he was to lose his life, and the magician would eat his beautiful blue eyes.
That evening John went early to bed, said his prayers, and went to sleep quite quietly. But the travelling companion bound his wings to his back and his sword by his side, and took all three rods with him, and so flew away to the palace.
It was a very dark night. The wind blew so hard that the tiles flew off from the roofs, and the trees in the garden where the skeletons hung bent like reeds before the storm. The lightning flashed out every minute, and the thunder rolled just as if it were one peal lasting the whole night. Now the window opened, and the princess flew out. She was as pale as death; but she laughed at the bad weather, and thought it was not bad enough yet. And her white cloak fluttered in the wind like a great sail; but the travelling companion beat her with the three rods, so that the blood dripped upon the ground, and at last she could scarcely fly any farther. At length, however, she arrived at the mountain.
'It hails and blows dreadfully!' she said. 'I have never been out in such weather.'
'One may have too much of a good thing,' said the magician. Now she told him that John had also guessed correctly the second time; if he did the same on the morrow, then he had won, and she could never more come out to him in the mountain, and would never be able to perform such feats of magic as before, and so she was quite dejected. 'He shall not be able to guess,' said the magician. 'I shall think of something of which he has never thought, or he must be a greater conjuror than I. But now we will be merry.' And he took the princess by the hands, and they danced about with all the little goblins and Jack-o'-lanterns that were in the room. The red spiders jumped just as merrily up and down the walls: it looked as if fiery flowers were spurting out. The owl played the drum, the crickets piped, and the black grasshoppers played on the jews'-harp. It was a merry ball.
When they had danced long enough the princess was obliged to go home, for she might be missed in the palace. The magician said he would accompany her, then they would have each other's company on the way.
Then they flew away into the bad weather, and the travelling companion broke his three rods across their backs. Never had the magician been out in such a hailstorm. In front of the palace he said good-bye to the princess, and whispered to her at the same time, 'Think of my head.' But the travelling companion heard it; and just at the moment when the princess slipped through the window into her bedroom, and the magician was about to turn back, he seized him by his long beard, and with his sabre cut off the ugly conjuror's head just by the shoulders, so that the magician did not even see him. The body he threw out into the sea to the fishes; but the head he only dipped into the water, and then tied it in his silk handkerchief, took it with him into the inn, and then lay down to sleep.
Next morning he gave John the handkerchief, and told him not to untie it until the princess asked him to tell her thoughts.
There were so many people in the great hall of the palace, that they stood as close together as radishes bound together in a bundle. The council sat in the chairs with the soft pillows, and the old king had new clothes on; the golden crown and sceptre had been polished, and everything looked quite stately. But the princess was very pale, and had a coal-black dress on, as if she were going to a funeral.'Of what have I thought?' she asked John. And he immediately untied the handkerchief, and was himself quite frightened when he saw the ugly magician's head. All present shuddered, for it was terrible to look upon; but the princess sat just like a statue, and could not utter
a single word. At length she stood up, and gave John her hand, for he had guessed correctly. She did not look at any one, only sighed aloud, and said, 'Now you are my lord!—this evening we will hold our wedding,'
'I like that!' cried the old king. 'So I would have it.' All present cried, 'Hurrah!' The soldiers' band played music in the streets, the bells rang, and the cake-women took off the black crape from their sugar pigs, for joy now reigned everywhere; three oxen roasted whole, and stuffed with ducks and fowls, were placed in the middle of the market, that every one might cut himself a slice; the fountains ran with the best wine; and whoever bought a penny cake at a baker's got six buns into the bargain, and the buns had raisins in them.
In the evening the whole town was illuminated; the soldiers fired off the cannon, and the boys let off crackers; and there was eating and drinking, clinking of glasses, and dancing, in the palace. All the noble gentlemen and pretty ladies danced with each other, and one could hear, a long distance off, how they sang—
Here are many pretty girls, who all love to dance;
See, they whirl like spinning-wheels, retire and advance.
Turn, my pretty maiden, do, till the sole falls from your shoe.
But still the princess was a witch, and did not like John. This had been expected by the travelling companion; and so he gave John three feathers out of the swan's wings, and a little bottle with a few drops in it, and told John that he must put a large tub of water before the princess's bed; and when the princess was about to get into bed, he should give her a little push, so that she should fall into the tub; and then he must dip her three times, after he had put in the feathers and poured in the drops; she would then lose her magic qualities, and love him very much.
John did all that the travelling companion had advised him to do. The princess screamed out loudly while he dipped her in the tub, and struggled under his hands in the form of a great coal-black swan with fiery eyes. When she came up the second time above the water, the swan was white, with the exception of a black ring round her neck. John let the water close for the third time over the bird, and in the same moment it was again changed to the beautiful princess. She was more beautiful even than before, and thanked him, with tears in her lovely eyes, that he had freed her from the magic spell.
The next morning the old king came with his whole court, and then there was great congratulation till late into the day. Last of all came the travelling companion; he had his staff in his hand and his knapsack on his back. John kissed him many times, and said he must not depart,—he must remain with the friend of whose happiness he was the cause. But the travelling companion shook his head, and said mildly and kindly,
'No, now my time is up. I have only paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom the bad people wished to injure? You gave all you possessed in order that he might have rest in the grave. I am that man.'
And in the same moment he vanished.
The wedding festivities lasted a whole month. John and the princess loved each other truly, and the old king passed many pleasant days, and let their little children ride on his knees and play with his sceptre. And John afterwards became king over the whole country.