The Fellow Traveler
by Hans Christian Andersen
Poor Johnny was very melancholy; for his father lay grievously ill, and could not hope to live. He was quite alone with the sick man in his small chamber; the lamp burned faintly, and gave but a glimmering light, and the evening was already far advanced.
You have always been a good son to me, Johnny, said the dying father,
and God will therefore certainly help you through the world! He cast a tender look upon his son, heaved a deep sigh, and died. There he lay as though he were asleep. But Johnny wept; for now he had not a friend in the whole world -- neither father nor mother, brother nor sister. Poor John! he knelt beside the bed, kissed his dead father's hands, and wept bitterly; but at last he fell asleep, and his wearied head sank on the hard bedstead.
Then he dreamed that he saw the sun and the moon bowing before him, and his father recovered, and laughing merrily: and he laughed just as he did when he was alive. A lovely maiden, wearing a golden crown in her long and beautiful hair, stretched out her hand to him; and his father said,
Look at her, the most lovely maiden in the world, who one day will be thy wife! and then he awoke. The vision he had beheld in his dream had vanished; his father lay dead and cold on the bed, and he was alone. Poor John!
The next week was the funeral. John followed close behind the coffin, and wept again most bitterly; for he would never see his good father more -- he who had thought so much of him! He heard the earth fall upon the coffin, he still saw the last corner of it; but with the next shovelful of earth even that was no longer visible. Then it seemed to him as though his heart would break, so very wretched did he feel. Yet he felt some consolation from the singing of the children round the grave; his tears flowed and relieved his heavy grief. The sun shone with a friendly look upon the green trees, as though it would say,
Be not so sorrowful, John! Seest thou not how blue and beautiful the heaven is? Thy father is there now, and implores a merciful God to take thee under his protection, that thou mayest be happy!
I will always behave well, thought John,
and then one day I shall go to heaven to my father. Oh, how shall we rejoice when we see each other again! And he will again show me many things, and teach me what is heavenly felicity, as he did when here on earth. Oh, how happy shall I be!
John pictured this heavenly meeting so vividly to himself, that he smiled through his tears. The little birds sat in the chestnut-tree, and chirped their gladsome song; they were happy, although they had come with him to the funeral. But they knew very well that the dead man was now in heaven, and that he had wings which were much larger and more beautiful than their own; for he had led a good life, and therefore was it that they rejoiced. John saw how they flew from the green trees out into the world, and he felt a wish to fly away, too. But he first made a large cross of wood, to put over his father's grave; and when he carried it there in the evening, he found the grave decorated with flowers. Others had done this; for everybody loved the good old father that was now no more.
Early in the morning John buckled on his little knapsack, put his whole fortune, consisting of fifty crowns, carefully into his girdle, and intended to set out on his travels. But, before doing so, he went to the churchyard, repeated a pious thanksgiving at the grave of his father, and said:
Farewell, dear father! I vow that I will always act uprightly, and then you will be able to pray God to protect and aid me.
In the fields the flowers displayed themselves fresh and beautiful in the warm sunshine, and appeared to nod him their welcoming. John returned once more to the old church where, when a little child, he had been baptized, and where he had gone every Sunday with his father to hear the service, and where, too, he had sung many a psalm. There he saw how the little sprite of the church stood in the belfry-window, in a pointed red cap, and with one hand shaded his eyes from the sun, which was shining directly in his face. John waved him a farewell; and the little sprite waved his red cap in return, laid one hand on his heart, and kissing the other, gave him to understand how sincerely he wished him well, and that he might have a right happy journey.
John now thought of all the fine things he should see in the great and splendid world, and kept going on farther and farther than he had ever been before, till at last he did not know a single place that he passed through, or the people whom he met. So he was now a good way off, and amid perfect strangers.
The first night he was forced to pass on a haycock in the open air: other bed had he none. But this seemed to him very beautiful; the king, he thought, could not have a better. The whole large meadow watered by a stream, the haycock, and the blue sky above, seemed to him a splendid bedchamber. The green grass, with the many red and white flowers, was his carpet; the elder and the wild roses his flower-bed; and the stream, with its fresh blue waves, his bath, out of which the sedge nodded him a friendly
good night and
good morrow. The moon was the large night-lamp, which burnt high up on the blue ceiling of heaven, without any danger of setting his bed-curtains on fire. Here he might sleep quietly; and he did so, too, and only awoke just as the sun was rising, and the little birds all around sang.
Good morrow! good morrow! are you not up yet?
When he set out again on his wayfaring, and had reached the next village, he heard the ringing of bells, and saw the people going to church. He therefore entered the house of God, heard the sermon, and joined in the song of thanksgiving; and it seemed to him as if he were, again in his own church with his father.
In the churchyard were many graves, on some of which rank grass was growing.
The mound over my father's grave will soon look so, too, thought he in sorrowful silence;
for no one will weed up the grass and plant flowers upon it. While he thus talked to himself, he pulled up some of the weeds about the graves, set up the crosses that had fallen down, and hung on them the wreaths of evergreens that had been blown away by the wind.
Perhaps another may do as much for my father's grave, as I am no longer able, said he. At the gate of the churchyard stood an old beggar, who supported himself on crutches. John gave him a piece of silver, and then, contented and happy, continued his journey.
Towards evening a storm came on; John tried to find a place of shelter, but it was dark before he could reach a house. At last he saw a small church on a hill before him, and when he reached it he found the door ajar. So he went in, intending to remain there till the storm had subsided.
I will sit here in the corner, said he;
I am quite tired, and have need of a little rest. He leaned his head against the wall, folded his hands as he repeated his evening prayer, and soon fell into a sound sleep, the while it thundered and lightened without.
It was midnight when he awoke; but the storm had passed, and the moon shone through the high church-windows. On the pavement of the church stood an open coffin, in which a dead man lay, placed there for burial. John was not the least frightened at the sight; for he had a good conscience, and knew for certain that the dead harm no one; but that it is the wicked only who can work us evil. And such were the two men now standing beside the corpse in the open coffin, that had been only placed in the church until the funeral. They would leave him no place even in death, and intended to fling the dead man out into the churchyard.
Why will you do that? asked John.
It is wrong of you: let the corpse rest, in Christ's name!
Hallo! what now! answered the two villains.
He has cheated us; he owed us money that he could not pay, and now he has chosen to die into the bargain; so that we shall never get a farthing of our money. We will have our revenge, and fling him out of his coffin, and let him lie on the earth like a dog.
I have only fifty crowns, said John;
they are all my inheritance; but I will give them to you if you will only promise me faithfully to leave the poor corpse in peace.
If you choose to pay for him, continued the two men,
we will do him no harm, that you may be sure of.
Then they took the money that John offered them, laughed scornfully at his good nature, and left the church. But John laid out the dead body carefully, folded the hands over the breast, and bade it adieu. He, too, then left the little church, and went with a light heart through the wood.
All around, where the waning moon could shine through the trees, he saw the pretty little elves at play, who did not allow his arrival to interrupt them, because they knew that good people only are permitted to see them. Some were hardly as big as one's finger, and had their long yellow hair done up with golden combs. They rocked themselves on the large dewdrops that sparkled on the leaves of the trees and the high grass; and if a drop rolled down, and one or the other of the little creatures tumbled head over heels on the long grass, the rest laughed and danced for joy. It was a droll sight to see. They began, too, to sing; and John knew all the airs. Large brown spiders, with silver crowns, were obliged to stretch long suspension-bridges from one hedge to the other, which, when the dewdrops fell on them, looked like a web of spun glass. Thus they amused themselves in. all manner of Ways till the sun appeared. Then the little elves crept into the cups of the flowers, and the wind broke their suspension bridges and their aerial castles, and wafted them through the air.
John had just reached the skirt of the wood, when the loud voice of a man called after him,
Hallo, comrade! where are you bound for?
Into the wide world, answered John.
I have neither father nor mother -- I am a poor youth; but I trust confidently in God, who, I do not doubt, will help me on.
I, too, am going into the world, said the strange man.
Shall we two go together?
With all my heart, answered John; and now on they both went in company, and soon began to like each other very much; for they both were good persons. But John soon remarked that his companion possessed much greater experience than himself; for he knew somewhat of everything, and had traveled over the whole world.
The sun was already high in the heavens, when they seated themselves under a tree to eat their breakfast. At the same moment an old woman passed by, who was so weak that she was obliged to go on crutches; and yet she carried a bundle of sticks at her back, that she had gathered with much labor in the wood; and out of her tucked-up apron three bundles of fern and willow twigs were hanging. When she had got quite near the two travelers, her foot slipped; she fell, and uttered a cry of pain; for in falling the old woman had broken her leg.
John jumped up, and wanted his companion to help him to carry the old woman home; but the stranger unbuckled his knapsack, took out a little box, and said, that he had a salve in it which would cure the leg directly; but, as recompense for the cure, he required the old woman to give him the three bundles she had in her apron.
A goodly payment, truly! answered the old woman, laughing wildly. It was true, she said, she did not much like giving away the herbs; yet it was a sad thing to lie a-bed with broken limbs; and therefore she gave them to the stranger. As soon as she had rubbed her leg with the salve, she got up quite cured; and could walk even better than before. Such was the healing power of this ointment; which, however, is not to be had at any apothecary's.
What will you do with the herbs? asked John of his companion.
Those are three beautiful nosegays, in my eyes, replied the stranger;
for you must know that I am a very eccentric personage. The two travelers then went on for a good distance.
What a storm is approaching! said John, suddenly:
Look at those black clouds!
You mistake, said the other;
those are not clouds, but high mountains, -- on which, far above the clouds, one enjoys the pure air of heaven. Oh, there it is wondrous beautiful! To-morrow, doubtless, we shall have got so far on our travels through the world.
But the mountains were not so near as John thought; for they had to walk the whole day before they reached them. Dark woods hung upon their sides; and stones were there as large as a whole town.
It would cost a good deal of trouble, said the stranger,
to cross the high mountains; and it would therefore be better to go to an inn, and rest and strengthen ourselves for the following day.
At the little public-house many people were assembled; for a man with a puppet show had just arrived, and every body was curious to see the play. On one of the front seats sat, among other spectators, a sleek butcher, with his bull-dog beside him.
The play began. A king and a queen sat on a splendid throne: both wore golden crowns, and had robes with long trains. Pretty puppets, with glass eyes and large mustachios, stood at the window, which they kept on opening and shutting, that the royal pair might enjoy the fresh air. All went on well, and without accident; but when the queen rose to walk across the stage, the bull-dog -- heaven knows why, or what could put it into his head -- made a spring at the stage, seized the lovely queen by her slender waist, and treated her most shamefully.
The poor man, who played the whole piece alone, was so unhappy at this misfortune, that he shed tears; but when the spectators had left the room, John's companion went up to him, and comforted him with the assurance that he could cure the doll. So he took his little box out of his knapsack, and rubbed the ill-used queen with the wonderful ointment that had cured the leg of the old woman in the wood. Immediately the queen recovered; and now could even move arms and legs herself, as if she were alive.
The puppet-showman was now as joyful as he had before been sad; and that his best figure could move of itself seemed to him no trifling wonder.
In the night there was suddenly heard a continued groaning in the room, so that every body in the house was awakened by it, and ran to see who was taken ill. The showman, went to his puppets; for it seemed to him as if the sighing and lamentation proceeded from them. To his astonishment he saw that all the dolls were lying about in the greatest confusion, and moaned unceasingly, because they wished to be rubbed too, as the queen had been, that they also might have the power of moving alone. The queen herself fell on her knees, lifted her splendid golden crown on high, and said,
Take my crown! -- gladly will I give it, -- anoint only my consort and my court! This scene moved the showman so much, that he offered the stranger the receipts of the next representation, if he would only rub some of his best figures with the wondrous salve. The stranger said he did not ask for money; he demanded only the sabre which the showman wore; and when the latter had most readily given it up to him, he rubbed six of the puppets with his ointment, who began to dance immediately, and so naturally, that all the servants, real living people, were seized with a mighty longing to dance also, and the whole household was soon figuring away -- coachman and cook, waiter and chamber-maid. In this way the whole night passed in the merriest manner imaginable.
The next morning John and his companion left the inn, ascended the high mountains, and wandered through the large pine forest. They had soon climbed so high that the churches beneath them seemed only like little red-berries amid green bushes; and their gaze wandered afar for miles. Never before had John seen so much of the glorious world. The gladdening sun shone pleasantly in the sky, and the horn of the hunter resounded in the valley.
Beneficent God, said John, lost in rapture at the sight,
fain would I thank Thee for Thy goodness to us men, and for the glorious beauty of Thy world in which Thou hast placed us! and a tear of joy glittered in his eye.
His companion, too, stood lost in thought, and looked down upon the plain with its numerous villages and towns illumined by the sun. At the same moment they heard a strange sound; and, on looking up, beheld a large white swan soaring in the air. The swan Avas of extraordinary beauty, and sang as they had never heard bird sing before; but its song grew fainter and fainter, and at last it bent its long black neck downwards, sank slowly, and soon after lay dead at their feet.
Such a beautiful pair of wings, so white and large as those of this fine bird are worth something, said the man.
I will take them with me. Now you see, John, that the sabre is of some use. And hereupon he, at one stroke, cut off both the wings of the dead bird, saying he intended to take care of them.
They now continued their journey over the mountains for many miles, till at last they saw a large town lying before them, with more than a hundred steeples and domes that glittered in the sunshine like silver. In the middle of this large town was a magnificent palace of marble, the roof of which was of pure gold; for here dwelt the King of the country.
John and his companion did not enter the town immediately, but went to an inn outside the city-gates, that they might first brush and clean their things; for they wished to appear as decent people in the streets of so magnificent a town. Here the landlord told them that the King of that country was such a good man, that he never did any thing to displease his subjects, but that the Princess, his daughter, was a sad lady. As to beauty, she did not want for that, for there could not be a more lovely maiden in the world; but she was a bad witch, for whose sake many a young prince had lost his life. Anyone might demand her hand; but he must then guess her thoughts three times. Should he really guess them, then she married him, and he was to be king over the land when her father died; but should he be unable to answer the three questions proposed, she had him hanged or beheaded; so cruel a creature was this Princess. The old King, her father, was much grieved at the matter; however, he could not change it, for he had once for all declared he would have nothing to do with the love-affairs of his daughter, and in this respect she might act quite as she chose.
Hitherto, as often as a young Prince had come to guess the thoughts of the Princess, it had turned out badly, and the suitor had been either hanged or beheaded. Then people said he had been warned beforehand, so it was his own fault if he chose to make the Princess an offer instead of leaving her alone. Once a year, the old King and all his soldiers went to church, to pray that his daughter might change; however, she always remained the same. Old women who were addicted to gin-drinking, on this day colored their drams black, so great was the general mourning for the Princess; and what could the good wives do more to show their sincere sympathy in the King's grief?
The good-for-nothing Princess! said John, when the landlord had finished his story;
she ought to have the rod, for she deserves it. Were I her old father, I would soon teach her to give up her cruelty.
While they were speaking, a loud
Hurrah! was heard in the street. It was the Princess who rode by, and so dazzlingly beautiful was she that, when the people looked at her, they forgot her wickedness, and broke out in shouts of joy wherever she showed herself. Twelve beautiful damsels, in white silk dresses, each holding a golden tulip in her hand, rode by her side on jet black horses, while the Princess sat on one that was quite white. Her riding-habit was of gold brocade, sprinkled with diamonds and rubies; her riding-whip was like a sunbeam, and the golden crown on her lovely head resembled the small stars of heaven. Over her charming dress hung a zephyr-like mantle of more than a thousand butterflies' wings. But all this splendor was surpassed by the radiant beauty of the Princess.
When John beheld her, he blushed deeply, and was unable to utter a word; for the princess looked exactly like that lovely maiden of whom he had dreamed the night his father died. She appeared of matchless beauty, and he could not help loving her with all his heart. It is certainly not true, thought he, that she is such a wicked witch, and that she has those youths who demand her hand beheaded or hanged if they cannot guess her thoughts. Any one has the right to ask her hand in marriage, even the poorest. I too will go to the palace as a suitor, for I feel that I cannot be happy without her.
When he informed the others of his intention, all counseled him against so rash a step, thinking he would fare no better than his predecessors; and his traveling companion was against it too. But John was full of hope; he brushed his clothes most carefully, polished his shoes, washed his hands and face, combed his nice golden hair into curls, and then set off quite alone for the town and the palace.
Come in! cried the old King, when John knocked at the door. He entered, and the good old gentleman advanced towards him in dressing-gown and embroidered slippers; yet he had his golden crown on his head, the sceptre in his right hand, and the imperial globe in his left.
Stop a moment, said he, tucking the golden globe under his arm; and holding out one hand to John, he gave him a hearty welcome. But as soon as he heard John's intention of proposing for the Princess, he began to weep so bitterly that globe and sceptre both rolled down upon the floor, and he was obliged to dry his tears with his dressing-gown. Poor good old King!
Don't do it! said he, warningly, to John;
the same will happen to you that has happened to all the rest. Only look here! He then led John to the park of the Princess, which, true enough, presented a most dreadful spectacle; for on every tree hung the skeletons of three or four kings' sons, who had wooed the Princess but could not guess what she thought about. As often as the wind stirred among the leaves, the dry bones rattled, and scared away the birds, so that not a single songster showed himself in this fearful grove. The flowers were tied up to human bones instead of sticks, and all around, over the more tender plants, death's heads were grinning. That was a fine sort of Garden for a Princess!
Here you may see what will be your fate, said the old King.
I counsel you, therefore, to desist from your intention, if you do not wish to fare like these. You will, besides, make me most unhappy if you persist; for it grieves me to the very heart.
John kissed the good old King's hand, and comforted him with the prospect of being successful in obtaining the beautiful Princess, whom he loved above every thing.
Just at this moment the Princess returned from her ride, and galloped with all her ladies into the courtyard of the palace. The King and John went to meet and salute her. The Princess was exceedingly friendly, and gave John her hand, which increased his passion for her still more; and he would on no account believe that she could be a witch as everybody asserted.
Then they all returned to the drawing room, and were served by the prettiest little damsels imaginable, who handed round sweetmeats and gingerbread nuts. But the old King was so melancholic that he ate nothing -- and, besides, the gingerbread nuts were probably a little too hard for him.
It was now arranged that John was to come to the palace again the next morning, when the judges and the grand council would be assembled to hear how he succeeded in guessing the thoughts of the Princess. Should he guess right the first time, he was to appear before the judges two other days in the same manner; but as yet no suitors for the Princess's hand had outlived the first day.
John was not the least cast down at this information; on the contrary, he was rather gay, and of good courage. He thought only of the lovely princess; and trusted, besides, to the all-loving God for help. As to the way he was to receive it, he could form no idea; so he preferred thinking no more about the matter. Jumping for joy, he returned to his inn, where his companion awaited him.
John could never tell enough of the amiability and extraordinary beauty of the Princess; and he longed already for the morrow, when he was to return to the palace, and guess the thoughts of his beloved.
But his companion shook his head doubtingly, and was quite sorrowful.
I love you so well, said he;
we could have kept together for a long time yet, and now we are to part! Good, dear Johnny! I could weep at this approaching separation; but I will not disturb your joy on the last evening that we may ever pass together. So let us rather be cheerful; to-morrow, when you are gone, I shall have time enough to weep!
The inhabitants had already heard of the arrival of a new suitor for the hand of the Princess, on which account a general mourning prevailed throughout the whole town. The theatre was closed, the King and the clergy kneeled in the churches, and even the confectioners put crosses on their little figures of sugar-work; for how was it possible that this suitor should succeed better than the rest?
In the evening John's companion had a large bowl of punch brought in, and said,
they would now be right merry, and drink to the Princess's health. But John had not drank two glasses, before such a drowsiness came over him, that he could keep his eyes open no longer, and fell asleep in his chair.
His comrade then lifted him gently into bed; and when it was night, took the two wings which he had cut off the dead swan, and fastened them on his own shoulders. He afterwards put the largest bundle of fern and willow-twigs, which the old woman in the forest had given him, into his pocket, opened a window, and flew out, away over the town, and straight to the palace, where he hid himself in a bow-window, close to the bedchamber of the Princess.
Stillness reigned in the town. The clock was striking a quarter to twelve, when the window was opened, and the Princess, in a large white garment, and with large black wings, flew away over the town towards a high mountain. As soon as the man perceived her, he made himself invisible, followed the Princess through the air, and beat her so with his rod, that the blood well nigh followed the stripes. Holloa! Ho! That was a ride through the air! The wind caught the garment of the Princess, blowing it about like a sail, and the moon shone bright the while.
Oh! how it hails! said the Princess, at every stripe of the rod; and well enough did she deserve the chastisement. At last she arrived at the mountain, and knocked for admittance. A noise like thunder was heard as the mountain opened, and the Princess entered; and the man, whom no one could see, followed at her heels.
They passed through a long dark passage, the walls of which shone like fire from the glowing spiders that were running up and down. They afterwards arrived in a spacious hall, built of gold and silver, on whose sides red and blue flowers were displayed as large as sun-flowers; but no one dared to pick them, for their stalks were poisonous snakes, and the flowers themselves the fire that streamed from their jaws. The whole ceiling was covered with beaming worms, and sky-blue bats that fluttered their transparent wings unceasingly.
In the middle of the hall stood a large throne, supported by the skeletons of four horses, caparisoned with trappings of red spiders. The throne itself was of milk-white glass; and the cushions were mice, each one holding the tail of another in his mouth. Above was outspread a canopy of rose-colored cobweb, studded with small flies that shone like precious stones.
On the throne sat an old goblin, with a crown on his frightful head, and a sceptre in his hand. He kissed the Princess on the forehead, desired her to sit beside him on the costly throne; and then the music immediately began. Large black grasshoppers played the jews-harp, and an owl beat his breast instead of a drum, as he had no other. Little fiends, each one with a will-o'-the-wisp in his cap, danced to this music about the hall. Not one of the company discovered the man who had placed himself immediately behind the throne, whence he could hear and see all that happened.
The courtiers of the mountain-dwarf now entered the saloon; they did so as if they were persons of immense importance; but anyone a little skilled in human nature could easily see that they did not feel happy. They were, moreover, nothing but broom sticks, with cabbages for heads; into which the goblin had conjured some life, and had them dressed in embroidered clothes. However, that was of no consequence; as they were only there for parade and show.
When the dancing had lasted some time, the Princess told the mountain-sprite that she had got another suitor; and asked him at last on what she should think, when he came to the palace next morning to guess her thoughts.
I'll tell you, my daughter, said the old goblin.
Choose something quite simple; then he will be least likely to guess it. Think, for example, of your shoe: he'll never dream of that. Then off with his head, and don't forget to bring his eyes with you tomorrow night; for they are what I am very fond of.
The Princess bowed low, and assured him she would not forget the eyes when she came again. Then the Sprite opened the mountain, and the Princess returned to the palace through the air; but John's companion followed close behind, and gave her such a whipping with his rod that she complained loudly of the violent hail-storm, till at last she slipped in at her chamber-window. But the stranger returned to his inn, where John still lay fast asleep, took his wings from his shoulders, and went to bed; for he was, no doubt, pretty tired after so fatiguing a journey.
It was still early when John awoke. He left his bed, and his companion got up too, and told him he had dreamed that night of the Princess and her shoe; wherefore he begged him to ask the Princess if it were not of her shoe she had thought.
I can just as well say the shoe as anything else, said John.
Perhaps what you dreamed is right; for I have the firm conviction that God will help me out of this dilemma. Notwithstanding, I will wish you farewell; for should I not guess the Princess's thoughts, I shall never see you more.
The two travelers then embraced each other, and John bent his steps towards the town and the palace. The festal hall was filled with people; the judges sat in large arm chairs, with soft cushions on which they leaned their heads because they were obliged to think so much.
The old King got up as soon as he perceived John, and wiped his eyes with his white pocket handkerchief. Then came the Princess. She was still more beautiful than yesterday, saluting every one in a most friendly manner, and, giving John her hand, said,
Good morrow, worthy friend.
Now, then, John was to say on what the Princess was thinking. Ah, how tenderly she looked at him! but as soon as she heard him utter the word
Shoe! she turned pale, and her whole frame began to tremble. That, however, availed her but little; for John had really guessed her thoughts.
Well, how happy the old King was when he heard it! He turned head over heels for sheer joy, and all present applauded him and John, who, it was decided, had that day been victorious.
Equally pleased was his companion when he told him how lucky he had been in the adventure; but John folded his hands and thanked God for His gracious assistance, Who, he confidently hoped, would aid him in his need the other two days. On the very next morning he was to guess the thoughts of the Princess for the second time.
The evening of this day passed like the preceding one. When John was asleep, his comrade fled off to the Princess, and followed her to the enchanted mountain. This time he had provided himself with two rods, and whipped the poor Princess much more severely than the first time. No one saw him, yet he heard and understood all that passed in the hall of the mountain-dwarf. The Princess was to think this time on her glove, and he told it to John as if he had had a dream. John was enabled, therefore, to guess rightly on what the Princess had thought the second time, which caused undissembled joy at the palace.
Every body at court now turned head over heels, as the King had done the first day; but the Princess lay on a sofa, and would not speak a word.
Now, then, the third day was to be got over, -- should that turn out well, then John would not only have the beautiful Princess for his wife, but would rule over the whole kingdom when the old King was dead. But could he not guess the Princess's thoughts, he would lose his life, and the Dwarf of the mountain would devour his eyes.
This evening John went to bed earlier than usual, said his prayers, and fell into a quiet sleep. His comrade, on the contrary, fastened his swan's wings on again, buckled his sabre round him, and put three rods into his pocket. Then off he flew to the palace.
The night was as dark as pitch; there was such a violent storm that the tiles flew off the roofs, and the trees in the Princess's park waved to and fro with the rattling skeletons of the princes that had been hanged. It lightened fearfully, and the thunders rolled so dreadfully that it was but one continued war throughout the whole night.
Now the window of the bedchamber flew open, and the Princess soared through the wildly agitated air. The paleness of death was on her face; but she laughed at the storm, and thought it was not yet half bad enough. Her garments fluttered in the wind, and the man whipped her so unmercifully with his threefold rod that the blood flowed, and she could at last hardly fly any further. Finally she reached the mountain.
It hails and it storms, said she;
never have I flown in such a tempest!
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, answered the goblin.
Then the Princess related to him how John had rightly guessed her thoughts a second time as well. Should he be successful on the third day, the victory was his; she would no longer be able to come to the mountain, nor could carry on any more witchcraft; and this disturbed her exceedingly.
He shall never guess on what you think this time, said the fiend.
I will find out something on which he never thought: if he did, he must be a greater sorcerer than I am. Now let us be merry.
Saying these words, he seized the Princess by the hand, danced with her round the hall, and all the little imps and wills-o'-the-wisp followed his example. The red spiders ran up and down the wall, so that they looked like flowers of fire; the owl beat his drum, the cricket sighed, and the black grasshoppers played the jews-harp; in short, there was a regular witches' ball.
When the imps had danced enough, the Princess prepared to depart, for she feared she might be missed at the palace. The Dwarf of the mountain said he would accompany her, that he might enjoy her company the longer.
They flew now through the air; but the man made such good use of his three rods, that the mountain-imp confessed he had never been in such a hail-storm before.
Arrived at the palace, he bade the Princess farewell, and whispered in her ear
Think of my head! But the man heard the words; and just as the Princess slipped into her bedchamber, and the imp turned round to go to his enchanted mountain, the stranger seized him by his black beard, and with the sabre hewed off his disgusting head close to his shoulders. The trunk he threw into the sea as food for the fishes; but the head he dipped in the water, and then tied it up in a silken handkerchief. He carried it home with him to the inn, and laid down to sleep.
On the following morning he handed the kerchief to John, begging him, however, not to open it before the Princess had proposed her question.
The last day the large hall of the palace was so filled with people that they could not all find room enough, and they were therefore obliged to stand on each other. The councilors sat as before in their easy armchairs, bolstered with cushions of eiderdown; and the old king was dressed in a new suit; and the crown and the sceptre had been rubbed up and polished tremendously. But the Princess was quite pale; she was dressed in black, as though she were to attend a funeral.
On what am I thinking at this moment? asked she of John, who at the same instant opened his handkerchief, and was terribly frightened when he saw the horrid head of the mountain imp within it. All the spectators shuddered with dread at the sight; and the Princess sat as though she were petrified, -- she was unable to utter a word. At last, however, she rose from her seat and gave John her snow-white hand; for he had now for the third time guessed her thoughts aright. Without looking at anyone, she merely said the words,
You are now my lord; this evening we will hold the wedding.
Now that pleases me, said the old King;
and so it shall be. Then the whole assembly shouted
Hurrah!, the military band played through the streets, the bells rang, and the confectioners took their little sugar-work figures out of mourning: there was nothing but joy in the town. Three whole roasted oxen, stuffed with ducks and fowls, were carried out to the marketplace, where anyone could eat of them and drink wine from the fountains. Whoever bought a roll at a baker's got half-a-dozen plum-cakes into the bargain.
In the evening the whole town was illuminated; the soldiers fired off cannons, and the boys in the street crackers; everywhere was eating and drinking without end; while at the palace the ladies and gentlemen danced together, and far below in the town was heard the song:
Now let us be merry, and dance and sing:
Let's drink to the health of our good old king,
Now, then, pretty lasses, come join the round,
The fiddles are playing, the tabors sound;
And he who's not merry to-night, ha! ha!
We'll soon wake him up with a tra-la-la!
But the Princess was still a witch, and did not care for John. His companion knew this; so he gave him three feathers out of the wings of the swan, and a little phial with some drops, and desired him to have a bath placed near the bridal bed. Then when the Princess had retired to rest he was to give her a gentle push, so that she fell into the bath; and then he was to hold her under the water three several times, having beforehand thrown in the three feathers and the drops. After this the Princess would be disenchanted, and would love him very much.
John did what his faithful companion had desired him: 'tis true, the Princess screamed aloud when he put her under water, and struggled with hands, and feet. When she came up the first time she was like a jet-black swan, with fiery eyes; the second time she was changed into a white swan, only a black ring was round her neck. John now said a prayer, and held the bird under water for the third time: immediately it was changed into the most beautiful Princess; she had become even more beautiful than she was before, and thanked her young consort with tears in her eyes for having freed her from enchantment.
The following morning was devoted to receiving the visits of those who came to congratulate the newly married couple. The King appeared with the rest with all his court, and there was wassailing and rejoicing throughout the day.
At last John's former traveling-companion appeared to congratulate him; but he had his staff in his hand, and carried the knapsack at his back. John went to meet him, embraced him before all the assembly, and begged him pressingly not to go away, but to remain with him forever, that he might share the good fortune which he owed to him with so dear a friend. But the stranger shook his head and said,
My good John, that cannot be, for my time is at an end; I have but paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom wicked persons would not allow to rest peaceably in his coffin? You gave all that you possessed that he might find rest in the grave. -- That corpse am I!
As he said this he vanished.
The wedding-festivities lasted a whole month; John and the Princess loved each other dearly, and the old King lived many years and joyous days with his children, and let his merry grandchildren ride upon his knee, and play with the polished sceptre. But John reigned over the whole land, and became at last a very powerful monarch.
Allen Brothers, New York