FRANÇAIS

Le compagnon de route

ENGLISH

The travelling companion


Le pauvre Johannès était très triste, son père était très malade et rien ne pouvait le sauver.
Ils étaient seuls tous les deux dans la petite chambre, la lampe, sur la table, allait s'éteindre, il était tard dans la soirée.
- Tu as été un bon fils! dit le malade, Notre-Seigneur t'aidera sûrement à faire ta vie.

Il le regarda de ses yeux graves et doux, respira profondément et mourut: on aurait dit qu'il dormait. Mais Johannès pleurait, il n'avait plus personne au monde maintenant, ni père, ni mère, ni sœur, ni frère. Pauvre Johannès! Agenouillé près du lit, il baisait la main de son père, pleurait encore amèrement mais à la fin ses yeux se fermèrent et il s'endormit la tête contre le dur bois du lit.
Alors il fit un rêve étrange, il voyait le soleil et la lune s'incliner devant lui et il voyait son père, frais et plein de santé, il l'entendait rire comme il avait toujours ri quand il était de très bonne humeur. Une ravissante jeune fille portant une couronne sur ses beaux cheveux longs lui tendait la main et son père lui disait:
- Tu vois, Johannès, voici ta fiancée, elle est la plus charmante du monde.
Il s'éveilla et toutes ces beautés avaient disparu, son père gisait mort et glacé dans le lit, personne n'était auprès d'eux, pauvre Johannès!
La semaine suivante le père fut enterré. Johannès suivait le cercueil, il ne pourrait plus jamais voir ce bon père qui l'aimait tant, il entendait les pelletées de terre tomber sur la bière dont il n'apercevait plus qu'un dernier coin, à la pelletée suivante elle avait entièrement disparu, il lui sembla que son cœur allait se briser tant il avait de chagrin. Autour de lui on chantait un cantique si beau que les yeux de Johannès se mouillèrent encore de larmes. Il pleura et cela lui fit du bien. Le soleil brillait sur les arbres verdoyants comme s'il voulait lui dire:
- Ne sois pas si triste, Johannès, vois comme le ciel bleu est beau, c'est là-haut qu'est ton père et il prie le Bon Dieu que tout aille toujours bien pour toi.
« Je serai toujours bon! pensa Johannès, afin de monter au ciel auprès de mon père, quelle joie ce sera de nous revoir.
Johannès se représentait cette félicité si nettement qu'il en souriait.
Dans les marronniers les oiseaux gazouillaient. Quiqui! Quiqui! Ils étaient gais quoique ayant assisté à l'enterrement parce qu'ils savaient bien que le mort était maintenant là-haut dans le ciel, qu'il avait des ailes bien plus belles et plus grandes que les leurs et qu'il était un bienheureux pour avoir toujours vécu dans le bien - et les petits oiseaux s'en réjouissaient. Johannès les vit quitter les arbres à tire-d'aile et s'en aller dans le vaste monde, il eut une grande envie de s'envoler avec eux. Mais auparavant il tailla une grande croix de bois pour la placer sur la tombe et quand vers le soir il l'y apporta, la tombe avait été sablée et plantée de fleurs par des étrangers qui avaient voulu marquer ainsi leur attachement à son cher père qui n'était plus.

De bonne heure le lendemain Johannès fit son petit baluchon, cacha dans sa ceinture tout son héritage - une cinquantaine de riksdalers et quelques skillings d'argent - avec cela il voulait parcourir le monde. Mais il se rendit d'abord au cimetière et devant la tombe de son père récita son Pater et dit:
- Au revoir, mon père bien-aimé! Je te promets d'être toujours un homme de devoir, ainsi tu peux prier le Bon Dieu que tout aille bien pour moi.

Dans la campagne où marchait Johannès, les fleurs dressaient leurs têtes fraîches et gracieuses que la brise caressait. Elles semblaient dire au jeune homme: - Sois le bienvenu dans la verdure de la campagne. N'est-ce pas joli, ici?

Sur la route, Johannès se retourna pour voir encore une fois la vieille église où, petit enfant, il avait été baptisé, où chaque dimanche avec son père il avait chanté des psaumes et alors, tout en haut dans les ajours du clocher, il aperçut le petit génie de l'église coiffé de son bonnet rouge pointu. Il s'abritait les yeux du soleil avec son bras replié. Johannès lui fit un signe d'adieu et le petit génie agita son bonnet rouge, mit la main sur son cœur et lui envoya de ses doigts mille baisers.

Johannès, tout en marchant, songeait à ce qu'il allait voir dans le monde vaste et magnifique. Il ne connaissait pas les villes qu'il traversait, ni les gens qu'il rencontrait, il était vraiment parmi des étrangers.
La première nuit, il dut se coucher pour dormir dans une meule de foin mais il trouva cela charmant, le roi lui-même n'aurait pu être mieux logé. Le champ avec le ruisseau et la meule de foin sous le bleu du ciel, n'était-ce pas là une très jolie chambre à coucher? Le gazon vert constellé de petites fleurs rouges et blanches en était le tapis, et comme cuvette il avait toute l'eau fraîche et cristalline du ruisseau où les roseaux ondulants lui disaient bonjour et bonsoir. La lune était une grande veilleuse suspendue dans l'air bleu et qui ne mettait pas le feu aux rideaux. Johannès pouvait dormir bien tranquille et c'est ce qu'il fit: il ne s'éveilla qu'au lever du soleil, lorsque les petits oiseaux tout autour se mirent à chanter: « Bonjour, bonjour, comment, tu n'es pas encore levé!

Les cloches appelaient à l'église, c'était dimanche, les gens allaient entendre le prêtre et Johannès y alla avec eux chanter un cantique et entendre la parole de Dieu. Il se crut dans sa propre église où il avait été baptisé et avait chanté avec son père. Au cimetière il y avait tant de tombes! sur certaines poussaient de mauvaises herbes déjà hautes, il pensa à celle de son père qui viendrait à leur ressembler maintenant qu'il n'était plus là pour la sarcler et la garnir de fleurs. Alors il se baissa, arracha les mauvaises herbes, releva les croix de bois renversées, remit en place les couronnes que le vent avait fait tomber, il pensait que quelqu'un ferait cela pour la tombe de son père.

Devant le cimetière se tenait un vieux mendiant appuyé sur sa béquille, il lui donna ses petites pièces d'argent, puis repartit heureux et content.
Vers le soir, le temps devint mauvais, Johannès se hâtait pour se mettre à l'abri mais bientôt il fit nuit noire. Enfin il parvint à une petite église tout à fait isolée sur une hauteur. Heureusement la porte était entrebâillée.
«Je vais m'asseoir dans un coin, pensa-t-il, je suis fatigué et j'ai bien besoin de me reposer un peu. » Il s'assit, joignit les mains pour faire sa prière et bientôt s'endormit et fit un rêve tandis que l'orage grondait au-dehors, que les éclairs luisaient.

A son réveil, au milieu de la nuit, l'orage était passé et la lune brillait à travers les fenêtres. Au milieu de l'église il y avait à terre une bière ouverte où était couché un mort qui n'était pas encore enterré. Johannès n'avait pas peur ayant bonne conscience, il savait bien que les morts ne font aucun mal, ce sont les vivants, s'ils sont méchants, qui font le mal. Et justement deux mauvais garçons bien vivants se tenaient près du mort qui attendait là dans l'église d'être enseveli, ces deux-là lui voulaient du mal, ils voulaient le jeter hors de l'église.
- Pourquoi faire cela? dit Johannès, c'est bas et méchant, laissez-le dormir en paix au nom du Christ.
- Tu parles! répondirent les deux autres. Il nous a roulés, il nous devait de l'argent, il n'a pas pu payer et, par-dessus le marché, il est mort et nous n'aurons pas un sou. On va se venger, il attendra comme un chien à la porte de l'église.
- Je n'ai que cinquante riksdalers, dit Johannès, c'est tout mon héritage, mais je vous les donnerai volontiers si vous me promettez sur l'honneur de laisser ce pauvre mort en paix. Je me débrouillerai bien sans cet argent, je suis sain et vigoureux, le Bon Dieu me viendra en aide.
- Bien, dirent les deux voyous, si tu veux payer sa dette nous ne lui ferons rien, tu peux y compter.
Ils empochèrent l'argent de Johannès, riant à grands éclats de sa bonté naïve et s'en furent. Johannès replaça le corps dans la bière, lui joignit les mains, dit adieu et s'engagea satisfait dans la grande forêt.
Tout autour de lui, là où la lune brillait à travers les arbres, il voyait de ravissants petits elfes jouer gaiement. Certains d'entre eux n'étaient pas plus grands qu'un doigt, leurs longs cheveux blonds relevés par des peignes d'or, ils se balançaient deux par deux sur les grosses gouttes d'eau que portaient les feuilles et l'herbe haute. Ce qu'ils s'amusaient! ils chantaient et Johannès reconnaissait tous les jolis airs qu'il avait chantés enfant. De grandes araignées bigarrées, une couronne d'argent sur la tête, tissaient d'un buisson à l'autre des ponts suspendus et des palais qui, sous la fine rosée, semblaient faits de cristal scintillant dans le clair de lune. Le jeu dura jusqu'au lever du jour. Alors, les petits elfes se glissèrent dans les fleurs en boutons et le vent emporta les ponts et les bateaux qui volèrent en l'air comme de grandes toiles d'araignées.
Johannès était sorti du bois quand une forte voix d'homme cria derrière lui:
- Holà! camarade, où ton voyage te mène-t-il?
- Dans le monde! répondit Johannès. Je n'ai ni père ni mère. Je suis un pauvre gars, mais le Seigneur me viendra en aide.
- Moi aussi je veux voir le monde! dit l'étranger, faisons route ensemble.
- Ça va! dit Johannès. Et les voilà partis.
Très vite ils se prirent en amitié car ils étaient de braves garçons tous les deux. Mais Johannès s'aperçut que l'étranger était bien plus malin que lui-même, il avait presque fait le tour du monde et savait parler de tout.
Le soleil était déjà haut lorsqu'ils s'assirent sous un grand arbre pour déjeuner. A ce moment, vint à passer une vieille femme. Oh! qu'elle était vieille! Elle marchait toute courbée, s'appuyait sur sa canne et portait sur le dos un fagot ramassé dans le bois. Dans son tablier relevé Johannès aperçut trois grandes verges faites de fougères et de petites branches de saule qui en dépassaient. Lorsqu'elle fut tout près d'eux, le pied lui manqua, elle tomba et poussa un grand cri. Elle s'était cassé la jambe, la pauvre vieille.
Johannès voulait tout de suite la porter chez elle, aidé de son compagnon, mais celui-ci ouvrant son sac à dos, en sortit un pot et déclara qu'il avait là un onguent qui guérirait sa jambe en moins de rien. Mais en échange il demandait qu'elle leur fasse cadeau des trois verges qu'elle avait dans son tablier.
- C'est cher payé! dit la vieille en hochant la tête d'un air bizarre.
Elle ne tenait pas du tout à se séparer des trois verges mais il n'était pas non plus agréable d'être là par terre, la jambe brisée. Elle lui donna donc les trois verges et dès qu'il lui eut frotté la jambe avec l'onguent, la vieille se mit debout et marcha, elle était même bien plus leste qu'avant.
- Que veux-tu faire de ces verges? demanda Johannès à son compagnon.
- Ça fera trois jolies plantes en pots, répondit-il; elles me plaisent.
Ils marchèrent encore un bon bout de chemin.
- Comme le temps se couvre, dit Johannès en montrant du doigt les épais nuages. C'est inquiétant.
- Mais non, dit le compagnon de voyage, ce ne sont pas des nuages mais d'admirables montagnes très hautes, où l'on arrive très au-dessus des nuages, dans l'air le plus pur et le plus frais. Un paysage de toute beauté, tu peux m'en croire! Demain nous y atteindrons sans doute.
Ce n'était pas aussi près qu'il y paraissait, ils marchèrent une journée entière avant d'arriver aux montagnes où les sombres forêts poussaient droit dans l'azur et où il y avait des rocs grands comme un village entier. Ce serait une rude excursion que d'arriver là-haut; aussi Johannès et son compagnon entrèrent-ils dans une auberge pour s'y bien reposer et rassembler des forces.
En bas, dans la grande salle où l'on buvait, il y avait beaucoup de monde, un homme y donnait un spectacle de marionnettes. Il venait d'installer son petit théâtre et le public s'était assis tout autour pour voir la comédie; au premier rang un gros vieux boucher avait pris place - la meilleure du reste -, son énorme bouledogue - oh! qu'il avait l'air féroce - assis à côté de lui ouvrait de grands yeux comme tous les autres spectateurs. La comédie commença. C'était une histoire tout à fait bien avec un roi et une reine assis sur un trône de velours. De jolies poupées de bois aux yeux de verre et portant la barbe se tenaient près des portes qu'elles ouvraient de temps en temps afin d'aérer la salle.
C'était vraiment une jolie comédie, mais à l'instant où la reine se levait et commençait à marcher, le chien fit un bond jusqu'au milieu de la scène, happa la reine par sa fine taille. On entendit: cric! crac! C'était affreux!
Le pauvre directeur de théâtre fut tout effrayé et désolé pour sa reine, la plus ravissante de ses marionnettes, à laquelle le vilain bouledogue avait coupé la tête d'un coup de dents. Mais ensuite, tandis que le public s'écoulait, le compagnon de voyage de Johannès déclara qu'il pourrait réparer et, sortant son pot, il la graissa avec l'onguent qui avait guéri la pauvre vieille femme à la jambe cassée. Aussitôt graissée, la poupée fut en bon état, bien plus, elle pouvait remuer elle-même ses membres délicats - on n'avait nul besoin de tenir sa ficelle -, elle était semblable à une personne vivante, à la parole près. Le propriétaire du théâtre était enchanté, il n'avait plus besoin de manœuvrer cette poupée, elle dansait parfaitement toute seule ce dont les autres étaient bien incapables.
La nuit venue, tout le monde étant couché dans l'auberge, quelqu'un se mit à pousser des soupirs si profonds et pendant si longtemps que tout le monde se releva pour voir qui pouvait bien se plaindre ainsi. L'homme qui avait donné la comédie alla vers son petit théâtre d'où provenaient les soupirs. Toutes les marionnettes - le roi, les gardes -, gisaient là, pêle-mêle, et c'étaient elles qui soupiraient si lamentablement, dardant leurs gros yeux de verre, elles désiraient si fort être un peu graissées comme la reine afin de pouvoir remuer toutes seules. La reine émue tomba sur ses petits genoux et élevant sa ravissante couronne d'or, supplia:
- Prenez-la, au besoin, mais graissez mon mari et les gens de ma cour!
A cette prière, le pauvre propriétaire du théâtre et de la troupe de marionnettes ne put retenir ses larmes tant il avait de la peine, il promit au compagnon de route de lui donner toute la recette du lendemain soir s'il voulait seulement graisser quatre ou cinq de ses plus belles poupées. Le compagnon cependant affirma ne rien demander si ce n'est le grand sabre que l'autre portait à son côté et dès qu'il l'eut obtenu, il graissa six poupées, lesquelles se mirent aussitôt à danser et cela avec tant de grâce que toutes les jeunes filles, les vivantes, qui les regardaient, se mirent à danser aussi. Le cocher dansait avec la cuisinière, le valet avec la femme de chambre, et la pelle à feu avec la pincette, mais ces deux dernières s'écroulèrent dès le premier saut. Quelle joyeuse nuit!
Le lendemain Johannès partit avec son camarade. Quittant toute la compagnie, ils grimpèrent sur les montagnes et traversèrent les grandes forêts de sapins. Ils montèrent si haut qu'à la fin les clochers d'églises au-dessous d'eux semblaient de petites baies rouges perdues dans la verdure et la vue s'étendait loin.

Johannès n'avait encore jamais vu d'un coup une si grande et si belle étendue de merveilles de ce monde, le soleil brillait et réchauffait dans la fraîcheur de l'air bleu, le son des cors de chasse à travers les monts était si beau que des larmes d'heureuse émotion montaient à ses yeux et qu'il ne pouvait que répéter:
- Notre-Seigneur miséricordieux, je voudrais t'embrasser. Toi si bon pour nous tous qui nous fais don de tout ce bonheur et de ces délices!
Le camarade, debout, joignait aussi les mains, admirant les forêts et les villes.
A cet instant, ils entendirent une musique exquise et étrange et, levant les yeux, ils virent un grand cygne blanc planant dans l'air. Il était si beau et chantait comme ils n'avaient encore jamais entendu chanter un oiseau mais il s'affaiblissait de plus en plus, il pencha sa tête et vint tomber mort à leurs pieds.
- Deux ailes magnifiques, dit le compagnon de route, si blanches et si grandes, cela vaut de l'argent, je vais les emporter.
Il trancha d'un coup les deux ailes du cygne mort, il voulait les conserver. Leur voyage les mena encore des lieues et des lieues par-dessus les montagnes, enfin ils virent devant eux une grande ville aux cent tours qui étincelaient comme de l'argent sous les rayons du soleil. Au centre de la ville s'élevait un magnifique palais de marbre, à la toiture d'or rouge. Là vivait le roi.
Johannès et son camarade s'arrêtèrent hors des portes à une auberge pour faire un brin de toilette et avoir bonne apparence en arrivant dans les rues. L'hôtelier leur raconta que le roi était un brave homme mais que sa fille était une très méchante princesse. Belle, elle l'était certainement, mais à quoi bon puisqu'elle était si mauvaise, une véritable sorcière responsable de la mort de tant de beaux princes.
Elle avait donné permission à tout le monde de prétendre à sa main. Chacun pouvait venir, prince ou gueux, qu'importe! Mais il leur fallait répondre à trois questions qu'elle posait. Celui qui donnerait la bonne réponse deviendrait son époux et il régnerait sur le pays après la mort de son père, mais celui qui ne répondrait pas était pendu ou avait la tête tranchée.
Son père, le roi, en était profondément affligé, mais il ne pouvait lui défendre d'être si mauvaise car il avait dit une fois pour toutes qu'il n'aurait jamais rien à faire avec ses prétendants et qu'elle pouvait, à ce sujet, agir à sa guise. Chaque fois que venait un prince qui briguait la main de la princesse, il ne réussissait jamais et il était pendu ou avait la tête tranchée quoiqu'on l'eût averti à temps et qu'il eût pu renoncer à sa demande. Le vieux roi était si malheureux de toute cette désolation qu'il restait, tous les ans, une journée entière à genoux avec tous ses soldats, à prier pour que la princesse devint bonne, mais elle ne changeait en rien. Les vieilles femmes qui buvaient de l'eau-de-vie la coloraient en noir avant de boire pour marquer ainsi leur deuil ... elles ne pouvaient faire davantage.
- Quelle vilaine princesse! dit Johannès, elle mériterait d'être fouettée, cela lui ferait du bien. Si j'étais le vieux roi elle en verrait de belles.
A cet instant, on entendit le peuple crier: « Hourra! » La princesse passait et elle était si parfaitement belle que tous oubliaient sa méchanceté et l'acclamaient. Douze ravissantes demoiselles vêtues de robes de soie blanche, montées sur des chevaux d'un noir de jais, l'accompagnaient. La princesse elle-même avait un cheval tout blanc paré de diamants et de rubis, son costume d'amazone était tissé d'or pur et la cravache qu'elle tenait à la main était comme un rayon de soleil. Le cercle d'or de sa couronne semblait serti de petites étoiles du ciel et sa cape cousue de milliers d'ailes de papillons.
Lorsque Johannès l'aperçut, son visage devint rouge comme un sang qui coule, il put à peine articuler un mot. La princesse ressemblait exactement à cette adorable jeune fille couronnée d'or dont il avait rêvé la nuit de la mort de son père. Il la trouvait si belle qu'il ne put se défendre de l'aimer. Il pensait qu'il n'était certainement pas vrai qu'elle pût être une méchante sorcière faisant pendre ou décapiter les gens s'ils ne devinaient pas l'énigme.
- Chacun a le droit de prétendre à sa main, même le plus pauvre des gueux, moi je monterai au château, c'est plus fort que moi.
Tout le monde lui déconseilla de le faire. Le compagnon de route l'en détourna également mais Johannès était d'avis que tout irait bien, il brossa ses chaussures et son habit, lava son visage et ses mains, peigna avec soin ses beaux cheveux blonds et partit tout seul vers la ville pour monter au château.
- Entrez, dit le vieux roi lorsque Johannès frappa à la porte.

Le jeune homme ouvrit et le vieux roi, en robe de chambre et pantoufles brodées, vint à sa rencontre, couronne d'or sur la tête, sceptre dans une main et pomme d'or dans l'autre.
- Attendez! fit-il prenant la pomme d'or sous le bras pour pouvoir tendre la main.
Mais quand il eut appris que c'était encore un prétendant, il se mit à pleurer si fort que le sceptre et la pomme roulèrent à terre, il dut s'essuyer les yeux.
- Renonce, disait-il, ça tournera mal pour toi comme pour tous les autres. Viens voir ici.
Il conduisit le jeune homme dans le jardin de la princesse, absolument terrifiant. Dans les branches des arbres pendaient trois, quatre fils de rois qui avaient sollicité la main de la princesse mais n'avaient pu résoudre l'énigme qu'elle leur proposait. Chaque fois que le vent soufflait, leurs squelettes s'entrechoquaient et les petits oiseaux épouvantés n'osaient plus venir là, des ossements humains servaient de tuteurs pour les fleurs et, dans tous les pots, grimaçaient des têtes de morts. Quel jardin pour une princesse!
- Tu vois, dit le vieux roi, il en ira de toi comme des autres, maintenant que tu sais, abandonne! Tu me rends vraiment malheureux, tout ceci me fend le cœur.
Johannès baisa la main du vieux roi affirmant que tout irait bien puisqu'il était si amoureux de la ravissante princesse.
A ce moment, la princesse à cheval, suivie de ses dames d'honneur, entra dans la cour du château. Ils allèrent donc au-devant d'elle pour la saluer. Charmante, elle tendit la main au jeune homme qui l'en aima encore davantage. Bien sûr il était impossible qu'elle fût une sorcière vilaine et méchante ce dont tout le monde l'accusait.
Ils montèrent dans le grand salon, de petits pages offrirent des confitures et des croquignoles, mais le vieux roi était si triste qu'il ne pouvait rien manger. Il fut alors décidé que Johannès monterait au château le lendemain matin, les juges et tout le conseil y siégeraient et entendraient comment il se tirerait de l'épreuve. S'il en triomphait, il lui faudrait revenir deux fois, mais personne encore n'avait donné de réponse à la première question, c'est pourquoi ils avaient tous perdu la vie. Johannès n'était nullement inquiet de ce qu'il lui arriverait, il était au contraire joyeux, ne pensait qu'à la belle princesse et demeurait convaincu que le bon Dieu l'aiderait. Comment? Il n'en avait aucune idée et, de plus, ne voulait pas y penser. Il dansait tout au long de la route en retournant à l'auberge où l'attendait son camarade.
Là, il ne tarit pas sur la façon charmante dont la princesse l'avait reçu et sur sa beauté. Il avait hâte d'être au lendemain, de monter au château, de tenter sa chance. Mais son camarade hochait la tête tout triste.
- J'ai tant d'amitié pour toi, disait-il, nous aurions pu rester ensemble longtemps encore et il me faut déjà te perdre. Pauvre cher garçon. J'ai envie de pleurer mais je ne veux pas troubler ta joie en cette dernière soirée qui nous reste. Soyons gais, très gais, demain quand tu seras parti, je pourrai pleurer.
Dans la ville, le peuple avait très vite appris qu'il y avait un nouveau prétendant et il y régnait une grande désolation.
Le théâtre était fermé, dans les pâtisseries on avait noué un crêpe noir autour des petits cochons en sucre, le roi et les prêtres étaient à genoux dans l'église.
Le soir, le compagnon de route prépara un grand bol de punch et dit à son ami que maintenant il fallait être très gai et boire à la santé de la princesse. Quand Johannès eut bu les deux verres de punch, il fut pris d'un grand sommeil. Son camarade le prit doucement sur sa chaise et le porta au lit, puis il prit les grandes ailes qu'il avait coupées au cygne, les fixa fermement à ses épaules, mit dans sa poche la plus grande des verges que lui avait données la vieille femme à la jambe cassée, ouvrit la fenêtre et s'envola par-dessus la ville, tout droit au château.
Le silence régnait sur la ville. Quand l'horloge sonna minuit moins le quart, la fenêtre s'ouvrit et la princesse s'envola en grande cape blanche avec de longues ailes noires par-dessus la ville, vers une haute montagne. Le camarade de route se rendit invisible de sorte qu'elle ne pouvait pas du tout le voir, il vola derrière elle et la fouetta jusqu'au sang tout au long de la route. Quelle course à travers les airs! Le vent s'engouffrait dans sa cape qui s'étalait de tous côtés.
- Quelle grêle! Quelle grêle! soupirait la princesse à chaque coup de fouet qu'elle recevait. Mais c'était bien fait pour elle.
Elle atteignit enfin la montagne et frappa. Un roulement de tonnerre se fit entendre quand la montagne s'ouvrit et la princesse entra suivie du compagnon que personne ne pouvait voir puisqu'il était invisible. Ils traversèrent un long corridor aux murs étincelant étrangement. C'étaient des milliers d'araignées phosphorescentes. Ils arrivèrent ensuite dans une grande salle construite d'argent et d'or, des fleurs rouges et bleues larges comme des tournesols flamboyaient sur les murs, mais on ne pouvait pas les cueillir car leurs tiges étaient d'ignobles serpents venimeux et les fleurs du feu sortaient de leurs gueules.
Tout le plafond était tapissé de vers luisants et de chauves-souris bleu de ciel qui battaient de leurs ailes translucides. L'aspect en était fantastique.
Au milieu du parquet un trône était placé, porté par quatre squelettes de chevaux dont les harnais étaient faits d'araignées rouge feu. Le trône lui-même était de verre très blanc, les coussins pour s'y asseoir de petites souris noires se mordant l'une l'autre la queue et, au-dessus un dais de toiles d'araignées roses s'ornait de jolies petites mouches vertes scintillant comme des pierres précieuses. Un vieux sorcier, couronne d'or sur sa vilaine tête et sceptre en main, était assis sur le trône. Il baisa la princesse au front, la fit asseoir auprès de lui sur ce siège précieux, et la musique commença.
De grosses sauterelles noires jouaient de la guimbarde et le hibou n'ayant pas de tambour se tapait sur le ventre. Drôle de concert! De tout petits lutins, un feu follet à leur bonnet, dansaient la ronde dans la salle, personne ne pouvait voir le compagnon de route placé derrière le trône qui, lui, voyait et entendait tout. Les courtisans qui entraient maintenant semblaient gens convenables et distingués mais pour celui qui savait regarder, il voyait bien ce qu'ils étaient vraiment: des manches à balai surmontés de têtes de choux auxquels la magie avait donné la vie et des vêtements richement brodés. Cela n'avait du reste aucune importance, ils étaient là pour le décor.
Lorsqu'on eut un peu dansé, la princesse raconta au sorcier qu'elle avait un nouveau prétendant. Que devait-elle demander de deviner?
- Ecoute, fit le sorcier, je vais te dire: tu vas prendre quelque chose de très facile, alors il n'en aura pas l'idée. Pense à l'un de tes souliers, il ne devinera jamais, tu lui feras couper la tête, mais n'oublie pas, en revenant demain, de m'apporter ses yeux, je veux les manger.
La princesse fit une profonde révérence et promit de ne pas oublier les yeux. Alors le sorcier ouvrit la montagne et elle s'envola. Mais le compagnon de route suivait et il la fouettait si vigoureusement qu'elle soupirait et se lamentait tout haut sur cette affreuse grêle, elle se dépêcha tant qu'elle put rentrer par la fenêtre dans sa chambre à coucher. Quant au camarade, il vola jusqu'à l'auberge où Johannès dormait encore, détacha ses ailes et se jeta sur son lit.
Johannès s'éveilla de bonne heure le lendemain matin, son ami se leva également et raconta qu'il avait fait la nuit un rêve bien singulier à propos de la princesse et de l'un de ses souliers. C'est pourquoi il le priait instamment de répondre à la question de la princesse en lui demandant si elle n'avait pas pensé à l'un de ses souliers.
- Autant ça qu'autre chose, fit Johannès. Tu as peut-être rêvé juste. En tout cas j'espère toujours que le bon Dieu m'aidera. Je vais tout de même te dire adieu car si je réponds de travers, je ne te reverrai plus jamais.

Tous deux s'embrassèrent et Johannès partit à la ville, monta au château. La grande salle était comble. Le vieux roi, debout, s'essuyait les yeux dans un mouchoir blanc. Lorsque la princesse fit son entrée, elle était encore plus belle que la veille et elle salua toute l'assemblée si affectueusement, mais à Johannès elle tendit la main en lui disant seulement: « Bonjour, toi! »
Et voilà! maintenant Johannès devait deviner à quoi elle avait pensé. Dieu, comme elle le regardait gentiment!... Mais à l'instant où parvint à son oreille ce seul mot: soulier, elle blêmit et se mit à trembler de tout son corps, cependant, elle n'y pouvait rien, il avait deviné juste. Morbleu! Comme le vieux roi fut content, il fit une culbute, il fallait voir ça! Tout le monde les applaudit.
Le camarade de voyage ne se tint pas de joie lorsqu'il apprit que tout avait bien marché. Quant à Johannès, il joignit les mains et remercia Dieu qui l'aiderait sûrement encore les deux autres fois. Le lendemain déjà il faudrait recommencer une nouvelle épreuve.
La soirée se passa comme la veille. Une fois Johannès endormi, son ami vola derrière la princesse jusqu'à la montagne et la fouetta encore plus fort qu'au premier voyage, car cette fois il avait pris deux verges. Personne ne le vit et il entendit tout. La princesse devait penser à son gant, il raconta donc cela à Johannès comme s'il s'agissait d'un rêve. Le lendemain le jeune homme devina juste encore une fois et la joie fut générale au château. Tous les courtisans faisaient des culbutes comme ils avaient vu faire le roi la veille, mais la princesse restait étendues sur un sofa, refusant de prononcer une parole.
Et maintenant, est-ce que Johannès pourrait deviner juste pour la troisième fois? Si tout allait bien, il épouserait l'adorable princesse, hériterait du royaume à la mort du vieux roi, mais sinon, il perdrait la vie et le sorcier mangerait ses beaux yeux bleus.
Le soir Johannès se mit au lit de bonne heure, il fit sa prière et s'endormit tout tranquille tandis que le compagnon de route fixait les ailes sur son dos, le sabre à son côté, prenait avec lui les trois verges avant de s'envoler vers le château.
La nuit était très sombre, la tempête arrachait les tuiles des toits, les arbres dans le jardin où pendaient les squelettes ployaient comme des joncs.
La fenêtre s'ouvrit et la princesse s'envola. Elle était pâle comme une morte mais riait au mauvais temps, ne trouvait même pas le vent assez violent, sa cape blanche tournoyait dans l'air, mais le camarade la fouettait de ses trois verges si fort que le sang tombait en gouttes sur la terre et qu'elle n'avait presque plus la force de voler. Enfin elle atteignit la montagne.
- Il grêle et il vente, dit-elle, je ne suis jamais sortie dans une pareille tempête.
- Des meilleures choses on a parfois de trop, répondit le sorcier.
Elle lui raconta que Johannès avait encore deviné juste la deuxième fois, s'il en était de même demain, il aurait gagné et elle ne pourrait plus jamais venir voir le sorcier dans la montagne, jamais plus réussir de ces tours de magie qui lui plaisaient. Elle en était toute triste et inquiète.
- Il ne faut pas qu'il devine, répliqua le sorcier. Je vais trouver une chose à laquelle il n'aura jamais pensé, ou alors il est un magicien plus fort que moi. Mais d'abord soyons gais.
Il prit la princesse par les deux mains et la fit virevolter à travers la salle avec tous les petits lutins et les feux follets qui se trouvaient là, les rouges araignées couraient aussi joyeuses le long des murs, les fleurs de feu étincelaient, le hibou battait son tambour, les grillons crissaient et les sauterelles noires soufflaient dans leur guimbarde. Ça, ce fut un bal diabolique.
Lorsqu'ils eurent assez dansé, le temps était venu pour la princesse de rentrer au château où l'on pourrait s'apercevoir de son absence, le sorcier voulut l'accompagner afin de rester ensemble jusqu'au bout.
Alors ils s'envolèrent à travers l'orage et le compagnon de route usa ses trois verges sur leur dos. Jamais le sorcier n'était sorti sous une pareille grêle. Devant le château, il dit adieu à la princesse et lui murmura tout doucement à l'oreille: « Pense à ma tête », mais le compagnon l'avait entendu et à l'instant où la princesse se glissait par la fenêtre dans sa chambre et que le sorcier s'apprêtait à s'en retourner, il le saisit par sa longue barbe noire et trancha de son sabre sa hideuse tête de sorcier au ras des épaules, si bien que le sorcier lui-même n'y vit rien. Il jeta le corps aux poissons dans le lac mais la tête, il la trempa seulement dans l'eau puis la noua dans son grand mouchoir de soie, l'apporta à l'auberge et se coucha.
Le lendemain matin, il donna à Johannès le mouchoir, mais le pria de ne pas l'ouvrir avant que la princesse ne demande à quoi elle avait pensé.
Il y avait foule dans la grande salle du château où les gens étaient serrés comme radis liés en botte. Le conseil siégeait dans les fauteuils toujours garnis de leurs coussins moelleux, le vieux roi portait des habits neufs, le sceptre et la couronne avaient été astiqués, toute la scène avait grande allure mais la princesse, toute pâle, vêtue d'une robe toute noire, semblait aller à un enterrement.
- A quoi ai-je pensé? demanda-t-elle à Johannès.
Il s'empressa d'ouvrir le mouchoir et recula lui-même très effrayé en apercevant la hideuse tête du sorcier. Un frémissement courut dans l'assistance.
Quant à la princesse, assise immobile comme une statue, elle ne pouvait prononcer une parole. Finalement elle se leva et tendit sa main au jeune homme. Sans regarder à droite ni à gauche, elle soupira faiblement:
- Maintenant tu es mon seigneur et maître! Ce soir nous nous marierons.
- Ah! que je suis content, dit le roi. C'est ainsi que nous ferons.
Tout le peuple criait: « Hourra! » La musique de la garde parcourait les rues, les cloches sonnaient et les marchandes enlevaient le crêpe noir du cou de leurs cochons de sucre puisqu'on était maintenant tout à la joie. Trois bœufs rôtis entiers fourrés de canards et de poulets, furent servis au milieu de la grand-place. Chacun pouvait s'en découper un morceau, des fontaines publiques jaillissait, à la place de l'eau, un vin délicieux, et si l'on achetait un craquelin chez le boulanger, il vous donnait en prime six grands pains mollets.
Le soir toute la ville fut illuminée, les soldats tirèrent le canon, les gamins faisaient partir des pétards, on but et on mangea, on trinqua et on dansa au château. Les nobles seigneurs et les jolies demoiselles dansaient ensemble, on les entendait chanter de très loin:
On voit ici tant de belles filles
Qui ne demandent qu'à danser
Au son de la marche du tambour.
Tournez jolies filles, tournez encore
Dansez et tapez des pieds
Jusqu'à en user vos souliers.

Cependant la princesse était encore une sorcière, elle n'aimait pas Johannès le moins du monde, le compagnon de route s'en souvint heureusement. Il donna trois plumes de ses ailes de cygne à Johannès avec une petite fiole contenant quelques gouttes et il lui recommanda de faire placer un grand baquet plein d'eau auprès du lit nuptial. Lorsque la princesse voudrait monter dans son lit, il lui conseilla de la pousser un peu pour la faire tomber dans l'eau où il devrait la plonger trois fois, après y avoir jeté les trois plumes et les gouttes. Alors elle serait délivrée du sortilège et l'aimerait de tout son cœur.
Johannès fit tout ce que le compagnon lui avait conseillé. La princesse cria très fort lorsqu'il la plongea sous l'eau: la première fois, elle se débattait dans ses mains sous la forme d'un grand cygne noir aux yeux étincelants, lorsque pour la deuxième fois il la plongea dans le baquet, elle devint un cygne blanc avec un seul cercle noir autour du cou. Johannès pria Dieu et, pour la troisième fois, il plongea complètement l'oiseau. A l'instant, elle redevint une charmante princesse encore plus belle qu'auparavant. Elle le remercia avec des larmes dans ses beaux yeux de l'avoir délivrée de l'ensorcellement.
Le lendemain matin, le vieux roi vint avec toute sa cour et le défilé des félicitations dura toute la journée. En tout dernier s'avança le compagnon de voyage, son bâton à la main et son sac au dos. Johannès l'embrassa mille fois, lui demanda instamment de ne pas s'en aller, de rester auprès de lui puisque c'était à lui qu'il devait tout son bonheur.
Le compagnon de route secoua la tête et lui répondit doucement, avec grande amitié:
- Non, non, maintenant mon temps est terminé, je n'ai fait que payer ma dette. Te souviens-tu du mort que deux mauvais garçons voulaient maltraiter? Tu leur as donné alors tout ce que tu possédais pour qu'ils le laissent en repos dans sa tombe. Ce mort, c'était moi.
Ayant parlé, il disparut.
Le mariage dura tout un mois. Johannès et la princesse s'aimaient d'amour tendre, le vieux roi vécut de longs jours heureux, il laissait leurs tout petits enfants monter à cheval sur son genou et même jouer avec le sceptre.
Et Johannès régnait sur tout le pays.
Poor John was very sad; for his father was so ill, he had no hope of his recovery. John sat alone with the sick man in the little room, and the lamp had nearly burnt out; for it was late in the night.

"You have been a good son, John," said the sick father, "and God will help you on in the world." He looked at him, as he spoke, with mild, earnest eyes, drew a deep sigh, and died; yet it appeared as if he still slept.

John wept bitterly. He had no one in the wide world now; neither father, mother, brother, nor sister. Poor John! he knelt down by the bed, kissed his dead father's hand, and wept many, many bitter tears. But at last his eyes closed, and he fell asleep with his head resting against the hard bedpost. Then he dreamed a strange dream; he thought he saw the sun shining upon him, and his father alive and well, and even heard him laughing as he used to do when he was very happy. A beautiful girl, with a golden crown on her head, and long, shining hair, gave him her hand; and his father said, "See what a bride you have won. She is the loveliest maiden on the whole earth." Then he awoke, and all the beautiful things vanished before his eyes, his father lay dead on the bed, and he was all alone. Poor John!

During the following week the dead man was buried. The son walked behind the coffin which contained his father, whom he so dearly loved, and would never again behold. He heard the earth fall on the coffin-lid, and watched it till only a corner remained in sight, and at last that also disappeared. He felt as if his heart would break with its weight of sorrow, till those who stood round the grave sang a psalm, and the sweet, holy tones brought tears into his eyes, which relieved him. The sun shone brightly down on the green trees, as if it would say, "You must not be so sorrowful, John. Do you see the beautiful blue sky above you? Your father is up there, and he prays to the loving Father of all, that you may do well in the future."

"I will always be good," said John, "and then I shall go to be with my father in heaven. What joy it will be when we see each other again! How much I shall have to relate to him, and how many things he will be able to explain to me of the delights of heaven, and teach me as he once did on earth. Oh, what joy it will be!"

He pictured it all so plainly to himself, that he smiled even while the tears ran down his cheeks.

The little birds in the chestnut-trees twittered, "Tweet, tweet;" they were so happy, although they had seen the funeral; but they seemed as if they knew that the dead man was now in heaven, and that he had wings much larger and more beautiful than their own; and he was happy now, because he had been good here on earth, and they were glad of it. John saw them fly away out of the green trees into the wide world, and he longed to fly with them; but first he cut out a large wooden cross, to place on his father's grave; and when he brought it there in the evening, he found the grave decked out with gravel and flowers. Strangers had done this; they who had known the good old father who was now dead, and who had loved him very much.

Early the next morning, John packed up his little bundle of clothes, and placed all his money, which consisted of fifty dollars and a few shillings, in his girdle; with this he determined to try his fortune in the world. But first he went into the churchyard; and, by his father's grave, he offered up a prayer, and said, "Farewell."

As he passed through the fields, all the flowers looked fresh and beautiful in the warm sunshine, and nodded in the wind, as if they wished to say, "Welcome to the green wood, where all is fresh and bright."

Then John turned to have one more look at the old church, in which he had been christened in his infancy, and where his father had taken him every Sunday to hear the service and join in singing the psalms. As he looked at the old tower, he espied the ringer standing at one of the narrow openings, with his little pointed red cap on his head, and shading his eyes from the sun with his bent arm. John nodded farewell to him, and the little ringer waved his red cap, laid his hand on his heart, and kissed his hand to him a great many times, to show that he felt kindly towards him, and wished him a prosperous journey.

John continued his journey, and thought of all the wonderful things he should see in the large, beautiful world, till he found himself farther away from home than ever he had been before. He did not even know the names of the places he passed through, and could scarcely understand the language of the people he met, for he was far away, in a strange land. The first night he slept on a haystack, out in the fields, for there was no other bed for him; but it seemed to him so nice and comfortable that even a king need not wish for a better. The field, the brook, the haystack, with the blue sky above, formed a beautiful sleeping-room. The green grass, with the little red and white flowers, was the carpet; the elder-bushes and the hedges of wild roses looked like garlands on the walls; and for a bath he could have the clear, fresh water of the brook; while the rushes bowed their heads to him, to wish him good morning and good evening. The moon, like a large lamp, hung high up in the blue ceiling, and he had no fear of its setting fire to his curtains. John slept here quite safely all night; and when he awoke, the sun was up, and all the little birds were singing round him, "Good morning, good morning. Are you not up yet?"

It was Sunday, and the bells were ringing for church. As the people went in, John followed them; he heard God's word, joined in singing the psalms, and listened to the preacher. It seemed to him just as if he were in his own church, where he had been christened, and had sung the psalms with his father. Out in the churchyard were several graves, and on some of them the grass had grown very high. John thought of his father's grave, which he knew at last would look like these, as he was not there to weed and attend to it. Then he set to work, pulled up the high grass, raised the wooden crosses which had fallen down, and replaced the wreaths which had been blown away from their places by the wind, thinking all the time, "Perhaps some one is doing the same for my father's grave, as I am not there to do it "

Outside the church door stood an old beggar, leaning on his crutch. John gave him his silver shillings, and then he continued his journey, feeling lighter and happier than ever. Towards evening, the weather became very stormy, and he hastened on as quickly as he could, to get shelter; but it was quite dark by the time he reached a little lonely church which stood on a hill. "I will go in here," he said, "and sit down in a corner; for I am quite tired, and want rest."

So he went in, and seated himself; then he folded his hands, and offered up his evening prayer, and was soon fast asleep and dreaming, while the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed without. When he awoke, it was still night; but the storm had ceased, and the moon shone in upon him through the windows. Then he saw an open coffin standing in the centre of the church, which contained a dead man, waiting for burial. John was not at all timid; he had a good conscience, and he knew also that the dead can never injure any one. It is living wicked men who do harm to others. Two such wicked persons stood now by the dead man, who had been brought to the church to be buried. Their evil intentions were to throw the poor dead body outside the church door, and not leave him to rest in his coffin.

"Why do you do this?" asked John, when he saw what they were going to do; "it is very wicked. Leave him to rest in peace, in Christ's name."

"Nonsense," replied the two dreadful men. "He has cheated us; he owed us money which he could not pay, and now he is dead we shall not get a penny; so we mean to have our revenge, and let him lie like a dog outside the church door."

"I have only fifty dollars," said John, "it is all I possess in the world, but I will give it to you if you will promise me faithfully to leave the dead man in peace. I shall be able to get on without the money; I have strong and healthy limbs, and God will always help me."

"Why, of course," said the horrid men, "if you will pay his debt we will both promise not to touch him. You may depend upon that;" and then they took the money he offered them, laughed at him for his good nature, and went their way.

Then he laid the dead body back in the coffin, folded the hands, and took leave of it; and went away contentedly through the great forest. All around him he could see the prettiest little elves dancing in the moonlight, which shone through the trees. They were not disturbed by his appearance, for they knew he was good and harmless among men. They are wicked people only who can never obtain a glimpse of fairies. Some of them were not taller than the breadth of a finger, and they wore golden combs in their long, yellow hair. They were rocking themselves two together on the large dew-drops with which the leaves and the high grass were sprinkled. Sometimes the dew-drops would roll away, and then they fell down between the stems of the long grass, and caused a great deal of laughing and noise among the other little people. It was quite charming to watch them at play. Then they sang songs, and John remembered that he had learnt those pretty songs when he was a little boy. Large speckled spiders, with silver crowns on their heads, were employed to spin suspension bridges and palaces from one hedge to another, and when the tiny drops fell upon them, they glittered in the moonlight like shining glass. This continued till sunrise. Then the little elves crept into the flower-buds, and the wind seized the bridges and palaces, and fluttered them in the air like cobwebs.

As John left the wood, a strong man's voice called after him, "Hallo, comrade, where are you travelling?"

"Into the wide world," he replied; "I am only a poor lad, I have neither father nor mother, but God will help me."

"I am going into the wide world also," replied the stranger; "shall we keep each other company?"

"With all my heart," he said, and so they went on together. Soon they began to like each other very much, for they were both good; but John found out that the stranger was much more clever than himself. He had travelled all over the world, and could describe almost everything. The sun was high in the heavens when they seated themselves under a large tree to eat their breakfast, and at the same moment an old woman came towards them. She was very old and almost bent double. She leaned upon a stick and carried on her back a bundle of firewood, which she had collected in the forest; her apron was tied round it, and John saw three great stems of fern and some willow twigs peeping out. Just as she came close up to them, her foot slipped and she fell to the ground screaming loudly; poor old woman, she had broken her leg! John proposed directly that they should carry the old woman home to her cottage; but the stranger opened his knapsack and took out a box, in which he said he had a salve that would quickly make her leg well and strong again, so that she would be able to walk home herself, as if her leg had never been broken. And all that he would ask in return was the three fern stems which she carried in her apron.

"That is rather too high a price," said the old woman, nodding her head quite strangely. She did not seem at all inclined to part with the fern stems. However, it was not very agreeable to lie there with a broken leg, so she gave them to him; and such was the power of the ointment, that no sooner had he rubbed her leg with it than the old mother rose up and walked even better than she had done before. But then this wonderful ointment could not be bought at a chemist's.

"What can you want with those three fern rods?" asked John of his fellow-traveller.

"Oh, they will make capital brooms," said he; "and I like them because I have strange whims sometimes." Then they walked on together for a long distance.

"How dark the sky is becoming," said John; "and look at those thick, heavy clouds."

"Those are not clouds," replied his fellow-traveller; "they are mountains– large lofty mountains– on the tops of which we should be above the clouds, in the pure, free air. Believe me, it is delightful to ascend so high, tomorrow we shall be there." But the mountains were not so near as they appeared; they had to travel a whole day before they reached them, and pass through black forests and piles of rock as large as a town. The journey had been so fatiguing that John and his fellow-traveller stopped to rest at a roadside inn, so that they might gain strength for their journey on the morrow. In the large public room of the inn a great many persons were assembled to see a comedy performed by dolls. The showman had just erected his little theatre, and the people were sitting round the room to witness the performance. Right in front, in the very best place, sat a stout butcher, with a great bull-dog by his side who seemed very much inclined to bite. He sat staring with all his eyes, and so indeed did every one else in the room. And then the play began. It was a pretty piece, with a king and a queen in it, who sat on a beautiful throne, and had gold crowns on their heads. The trains to their dresses were very long, according to the fashion; while the prettiest of wooden dolls, with glass eyes and large mustaches, stood at the doors, and opened and shut them, that the fresh air might come into the room. It was a very pleasant play, not at all mournful; but just as the queen stood up and walked across the stage, the great bull-dog, who should have been held back by his master, made a spring forward, and caught the queen in the teeth by the slender wrist, so that it snapped in two. This was a very dreadful disaster. The poor man, who was exhibiting the dolls, was much annoyed, and quite sad about his queen; she was the prettiest doll he had, and the bull-dog had broken her head and shoulders off. But after all the people were gone away, the stranger, who came with John, said that he could soon set her to rights. And then he brought out his box and rubbed the doll with some of the salve with which he had cured the old woman when she broke her leg. As soon as this was done the doll's back became quite right again; her head and shoulders were fixed on, and she could even move her limbs herself: there was now no occasion to pull the wires, for the doll acted just like a living creature, excepting that she could not speak. The man to whom the show belonged was quite delighted at having a doll who could dance of herself without being pulled by the wires; none of the other dolls could do this.

During the night, when all the people at the inn were gone to bed, some one was heard to sigh so deeply and painfully, and the sighing continued for so long a time, that every one got up to see what could be the matter. The showman went at once to his little theatre and found that it proceeded from the dolls, who all lay on the floor sighing piteously, and staring with their glass eyes; they all wanted to be rubbed with the ointment, so that, like the queen, they might be able to move of themselves. The queen threw herself on her knees, took off her beautiful crown, and, holding it in her hand, cried, "Take this from me, but do rub my husband and his courtiers."

The poor man who owned the theatre could scarcely refrain from weeping; he was so sorry that he could not help them. Then he immediately spoke to John's comrade, and promised him all the money he might receive at the next evening's performance, if he would only rub the ointment on four or five of his dolls. But the fellow-traveller said he did not require anything in return, excepting the sword which the showman wore by his side. As soon as he received the sword he anointed six of the dolls with the ointment, and they were able immediately to dance so gracefully that all the living girls in the room could not help joining in the dance. The coachman danced with the cook, and the waiters with the chambermaids, and all the strangers joined; even the tongs and the fire-shovel made an attempt, but they fell down after the first jump. So after all it was a very merry night. The next morning John and his companion left the inn to continue their journey through the great pine-forests and over the high mountains. They arrived at last at such a great height that towns and villages lay beneath them, and the church steeples looked like little specks between the green trees. They could see for miles round, far away to places they had never visited, and John saw more of the beautiful world than he had ever known before. The sun shone brightly in the blue firmament above, and through the clear mountain air came the sound of the huntsman's horn, and the soft, sweet notes brought tears into his eyes, and he could not help exclaiming, "How good and loving God is to give us all this beauty and loveliness in the world to make us happy!"

His fellow-traveller stood by with folded hands, gazing on the dark wood and the towns bathed in the warm sunshine. At this moment there sounded over their heads sweet music. They looked up, and discovered a large white swan hovering in the air, and singing as never bird sang before. But the song soon became weaker and weaker, the bird's head drooped, and he sunk slowly down, and lay dead at their feet.

"It is a beautiful bird," said the traveller, "and these large white wings are worth a great deal of money. I will take them with me. You see now that a sword will be very useful."

So he cut off the wings of the dead swan with one blow, and carried them away with him.

They now continued their journey over the mountains for many miles, till they at length reached a large city, containing hundreds of towers, that shone in the sunshine like silver. In the midst of the city stood a splendid marble palace, roofed with pure red gold, in which dwelt the king. John and his companion would not go into the town immediately; so they stopped at an inn outside the town, to change their clothes; for they wished to appear respectable as they walked through the streets. The landlord told them that the king was a very good man, who never injured any one: but as to his daughter, "Heaven defend us!"

She was indeed a wicked princess. She possessed beauty enough– nobody could be more elegant or prettier than she was; but what of that? for she was a wicked witch; and in consequence of her conduct many noble young princes had lost their lives. Any one was at liberty to make her an offer; were he a prince or a beggar, it mattered not to her. She would ask him to guess three things which she had just thought of, and if he succeed, he was to marry her, and be king over all the land when her father died; but if he could not guess these three things, then she ordered him to be hanged or to have his head cut off. The old king, her father, was very much grieved at her conduct, but he could not prevent her from being so wicked, because he once said he would have nothing more to do with her lovers; she might do as she pleased. Each prince who came and tried the three guesses, so that he might marry the princess, had been unable to find them out, and had been hanged or beheaded. They had all been warned in time, and might have left her alone, if they would. The old king became at last so distressed at all these dreadful circumstances, that for a whole day every year he and his soldiers knelt and prayed that the princess might become good; but she continued as wicked as ever. The old women who drank brandy would color it quite black before they drank it, to show how they mourned; and what more could they do?

"What a horrible princess!" said John; "she ought to be well flogged. If I were the old king, I would have her punished in some way."

Just then they heard the people outside shouting, "Hurrah!" and, looking out, they saw the princess passing by; and she was really so beautiful that everybody forgot her wickedness, and shouted "Hurrah!" Twelve lovely maidens in white silk dresses, holding golden tulips in their hands, rode by her side on coal-black horses. The princess herself had a snow-white steed, decked with diamonds and rubies. Her dress was of cloth of gold, and the whip she held in her hand looked like a sunbeam. The golden crown on her head glittered like the stars of heaven, and her mantle was formed of thousands of butterflies' wings sewn together. Yet she herself was more beautiful than all.

When John saw her, his face became as red as a drop of blood, and he could scarcely utter a word. The princess looked exactly like the beautiful lady with the golden crown, of whom he had dreamed on the night his father died. She appeared to him so lovely that he could not help loving her.

"It could not be true," he thought, "that she was really a wicked witch, who ordered people to be hanged or beheaded, if they could not guess her thoughts. Every one has permission to go and ask her hand, even the poorest beggar. I shall pay a visit to the palace," he said; "I must go, for I cannot help myself."

Then they all advised him not to attempt it; for he would be sure to share the same fate as the rest. His fellow-traveller also tried to persuade him against it; but John seemed quite sure of success. He brushed his shoes and his coat, washed his face and his hands, combed his soft flaxen hair, and then went out alone into the town, and walked to the palace.

"Come in," said the king, as John knocked at the door. John opened it, and the old king, in a dressing gown and embroidered slippers, came towards him. He had the crown on his head, carried his sceptre in one hand, and the orb in the other. "Wait a bit," said he, and he placed the orb under his arm, so that he could offer the other hand to John; but when he found that John was another suitor, he began to weep so violently, that both the sceptre and the orb fell to the floor, and he was obliged to wipe his eyes with his dressing gown. Poor old king! "Let her alone," he said; "you will fare as badly as all the others. Come, I will show you." Then he led him out into the princess's pleasure gardens, and there he saw a frightful sight. On every tree hung three or four king's sons who had wooed the princess, but had not been able to guess the riddles she gave them. Their skeletons rattled in every breeze, so that the terrified birds never dared to venture into the garden. All the flowers were supported by human bones instead of sticks, and human skulls in the flower-pots grinned horribly. It was really a doleful garden for a princess. "Do you see all this?" said the old king; "your fate will be the same as those who are here, therefore do not attempt it. You really make me very unhappy,– I take these things to heart so very much."

John kissed the good old king's hand, and said he was sure it would be all right, for he was quite enchanted with the beautiful princess. Then the princess herself came riding into the palace yard with all her ladies, and he wished her "Good morning." She looked wonderfully fair and lovely when she offered her hand to John, and he loved her more than ever. How could she be a wicked witch, as all the people asserted? He accompanied her into the hall, and the little pages offered them gingerbread nuts and sweetmeats, but the old king was so unhappy he could eat nothing, and besides, gingerbread nuts were too hard for him. It was decided that John should come to the palace the next day, when the judges and the whole of the counsellors would be present, to try if he could guess the first riddle. If he succeeded, he would have to come a second time; but if not, he would lose his life,– and no one had ever been able to guess even one. However, John was not at all anxious about the result of his trial; on the contrary, he was very merry. He thought only of the beautiful princess, and believed that in some way he should have help, but how he knew not, and did not like to think about it; so he danced along the high-road as he went back to the inn, where he had left his fellow-traveller waiting for him. John could not refrain from telling him how gracious the princess had been, and how beautiful she looked. He longed for the next day so much, that he might go to the palace and try his luck at guessing the riddles. But his comrade shook his head, and looked very mournful. "I do so wish you to do well," said he; "we might have continued together much longer, and now I am likely to lose you; you poor dear John! I could shed tears, but I will not make you unhappy on the last night we may be together. We will be merry, really merry this evening; to-morrow, after you are gone, shall be able to weep undisturbed."

It was very quickly known among the inhabitants of the town that another suitor had arrived for the princess, and there was great sorrow in consequence. The theatre remained closed, the women who sold sweetmeats tied crape round the sugar-sticks, and the king and the priests were on their knees in the church. There was a great lamentation, for no one expected John to succeed better than those who had been suitors before.

In the evening John's comrade prepared a large bowl of punch, and said, "Now let us be merry, and drink to the health of the princess." But after drinking two glasses, John became so sleepy, that he could not keep his eyes open, and fell fast asleep. Then his fellow-traveller lifted him gently out of his chair, and laid him on the bed; and as soon as it was quite dark, he took the two large wings which he had cut from the dead swan, and tied them firmly to his own shoulders. Then he put into his pocket the largest of the three rods which he had obtained from the old woman who had fallen and broken her leg. After this he opened the window, and flew away over the town, straight towards the palace, and seated himself in a corner, under the window which looked into the bedroom of the princess.

The town was perfectly still when the clocks struck a quarter to twelve. Presently the window opened, and the princess, who had large black wings to her shoulders, and a long white mantle, flew away over the city towards a high mountain. The fellow-traveller, who had made himself invisible, so that she could not possibly see him, flew after her through the air, and whipped the princess with his rod, so that the blood came whenever he struck her. Ah, it was a strange flight through the air! The wind caught her mantle, so that it spread out on all sides, like the large sail of a ship, and the moon shone through it. "How it hails, to be sure!" said the princess, at each blow she received from the rod; and it served her right to be whipped.

At last she reached the side of the mountain, and knocked. The mountain opened with a noise like the roll of thunder, and the princess went in. The traveller followed her; no one could see him, as he had made himself invisible. They went through a long, wide passage. A thousand gleaming spiders ran here and there on the walls, causing them to glitter as if they were illuminated with fire. They next entered a large hall built of silver and gold. Large red and blue flowers shone on the walls, looking like sunflowers in size, but no one could dare to pluck them, for the stems were hideous poisonous snakes, and the flowers were flames of fire, darting out of their jaws. Shining glow-worms covered the ceiling, and sky-blue bats flapped their transparent wings. Altogether the place had a frightful appearance. In the middle of the floor stood a throne supported by four skeleton horses, whose harness had been made by fiery-red spiders. The throne itself was made of milk-white glass, and the cushions were little black mice, each biting the other's tail. Over it hung a canopy of rose-colored spider's webs, spotted with the prettiest little green flies, which sparkled like precious stones. 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, seated her by his side on the splendid throne, and then the music commenced. Great black grasshoppers played the mouth organ, and the owl struck herself on the body instead of a drum. It was altogether a ridiculous concert. Little black goblins with false lights in their caps danced about the hall; but no one could see the traveller, and he had placed himself just behind the throne where he could see and hear everything. The courtiers who came in afterwards looked noble and grand; but any one with common sense could see what they really were, only broomsticks, with cabbages for heads. The magician had given them life, and dressed them in embroidered robes. It answered very well, as 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 asked him what she could think of for the suitor to guess when he came to the castle the next morning.

"Listen to what I say," said the magician, "you must choose something very easy, he is less likely to guess it then. Think of one of your shoes, he will never imagine it is that. Then cut his head off; and mind you do not forget to bring his eyes with you to-morrow night, that I may eat them."

The princess curtsied low, and said she would not forget the eyes.

The magician then opened the mountain and she flew home again, but the traveller followed and flogged her so much with the rod, that she sighed quite deeply about the heavy hail-storm, and made as much haste as she could to get back to her bedroom through the window. The traveller then returned to the inn where John still slept, took off his wings and laid down on the bed, for he was very tired. Early in the morning John awoke, and when his fellow-traveller got up, he said that he had a very wonderful dream about the princess and her shoe, he therefore advised John to ask her if she had not thought of her shoe. Of course the traveller knew this from what the magician in the mountain had said.

"I may as well say that as anything," said John. "Perhaps your dream may come true; still I will say farewell, for if I guess wrong I shall never see you again."

Then they embraced each other, and John went into the town and walked to the palace. The great hall was full of people, and the judges sat in arm-chairs, with eider-down cushions to rest their heads upon, because they had so much to think of. The old king stood near, wiping his eyes with his white pocket-handkerchief. When the princess entered, she looked even more beautiful than she had appeared the day before, and greeted every one present most gracefully; but to John she gave her hand, and said, "Good morning to you."

Now came the time for John to guess what she was thinking of; and oh, how kindly she looked at him as she spoke. But when he uttered the single word shoe, she turned as pale as a ghost; all her wisdom could not help her, for he had guessed rightly. Oh, how pleased the old king was! It was quite amusing to see how he capered about. All the people clapped their hands, both on his account and John's, who had guessed rightly the first time. His fellow-traveller was glad also, when he heard how successful John had been. But John folded his hands, and thanked God, who, he felt quite sure, would help him again; and he knew he had to guess twice more. The evening passed pleasantly like the one preceding. While John slept, his companion flew behind the princess to the mountain, and flogged her even harder than before; this time he had taken two rods with him. No one saw him go in with her, and he heard all that was said. The princess this time was to think of a glove, and he told John as if he had again heard it in a dream. The next day, therefore, he was able to guess correctly the second time, and it caused great rejoicing at the palace. The whole court jumped about as they had seen the king do the day before, but the princess lay on the sofa, and would not say a single word. All now depended upon John. If he only guessed rightly the third time, he would marry the princess, and reign over the kingdom after the death of the old king: but if he failed, he would lose his life, and the magician would have his beautiful blue eyes. That evening John said his prayers and went to bed very early, and soon fell asleep calmly. But his companion tied on his wings to his shoulders, took three rods, and, with his sword at his side, flew to the palace. It was a very dark night, and so stormy that the tiles flew from the roofs of the houses, and the trees in the garden upon which the skeletons hung bent themselves like reeds before the wind. The lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled in one long-continued peal all night. The window of the castle opened, and the princess flew out. She was pale as death, but she laughed at the storm as if it were not bad enough. Her white mantle fluttered in the wind like a large sail, and the traveller flogged her with the three rods till the blood trickled down, and at last she could scarcely fly; she contrived, however, to reach the mountain. "What a hail-storm!" she said, as she entered; "I have never been out in such weather as this."

"Yes, there may be too much of a good thing sometimes," said the magician.

Then the princess told him that John had guessed rightly the second time, and if he succeeded the next morning, he would win, and she could never come to the mountain again, or practice magic as she had done, and therefore she was quite unhappy. "I will find out something for you to think of which he will never guess, unless he is a greater conjuror than myself. But now let us be merry."

Then he took the princess by both hands, and they danced with all the little goblins and Jack-o'-lanterns in the room. The red spiders sprang here and there on the walls quite as merrily, and the flowers of fire appeared as if they were throwing out sparks. The owl beat the drum, the crickets whistled and the grasshoppers played the mouth-organ. It was a very ridiculous ball. After they had danced enough, the princess was obliged to go home, for fear she should be missed at the palace. The magician offered to go with her, that they might be company to each other on the way. Then they flew away through the bad weather, and the traveller followed them, and broke his three rods across their shoulders. The magician had never been out in such a hail-storm as this. Just by the palace the magician stopped to wish the princess farewell, and to whisper in her ear, "To-morrow think of my head."

But the traveller heard it, and just as the princess slipped through the window into her bedroom, and the magician turned round to fly back to the mountain, he seized him by the long black beard, and with his sabre cut off the wicked conjuror's head just behind the shoulders, so that he could not even see who it was. He threw the body into the sea to the fishes, and after dipping the head into the water, he tied it up in a silk handkerchief, took it with him to the inn, and then went to bed. The next morning he gave John the handkerchief, and told him not to untie it till the princess asked him what she was thinking of. There were so many people in the great hall of the palace that they stood as thick as radishes tied together in a bundle. The council sat in their arm-chairs with the white cushions. The old king wore new robes, and the golden crown and sceptre had been polished up so that he looked quite smart. But the princess was very pale, and wore a black dress as if she were going to a funeral.

What have I thought of?" asked the princess, of John. He immediately untied the handkerchief, and was himself quite frightened when he saw the head of the ugly magician. Every one shuddered, for it was terrible to look at; but the princess sat like a statue, and could not utter a single word. At length she rose and gave John her hand, for he had guessed rightly.

She looked at no one, but sighed deeply, and said, "You are my master now; this evening our marriage must take place."

"I am very pleased to hear it," said the old king. "It is just what I wish."

Then all the people shouted "Hurrah." The band played music in the streets, the bells rang, and the cake-women took the black crape off the sugar-sticks. There was universal joy. Three oxen, stuffed with ducks and chickens, were roasted whole in the market-place, where every one might help himself to a slice. The fountains spouted forth the most delicious wine, and whoever bought a penny loaf at the baker's received six large buns, full of raisins, as a present. In the evening the whole town was illuminated. The soldiers fired off cannons, and the boys let off crackers. There was eating and drinking, dancing and jumping everywhere. In the palace, the high-born gentlemen and beautiful ladies danced with each other, and they could be heard at a great distance singing the following song:–

"Here are maidens, young and fair,
Dancing in the summer air;
Like two spinning-wheels at play,
Pretty maidens dance away–
Dance the spring and summer through
Till the sole falls from your shoe."

But the princess was still a witch, and she could not love John. His fellow-traveller had thought of that, so he gave John three feathers out of the swan's wings, and a little bottle with a few drops in it. He told him to place a large bath full of water by the princess's bed, and put the feathers and the drops into it. Then, at the moment she was about to get into bed, he must give her a little push, so that she might fall into the water, and then dip her three times. This would destroy the power of the magician, and she would love him very much. John did all that his companion told him to do. The princess shrieked aloud when he dipped her under the water the first time, and struggled under his hands in the form of a great black swan with fiery eyes. As she rose the second time from the water, the swan had become white, with a black ring round its neck. John allowed the water to close once more over the bird, and at the same time it changed into a most beautiful princess. She was more lovely even than before, and thanked him, while her eyes sparkled with tears, for having broken the spell of the magician. The next day, the king came with the whole court to offer their congratulations, and stayed till quite late. 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 told him he must not go, he must remain with him, for he was the cause of all his good fortune. But the traveller shook his head, and said gently and kindly, "No: my time is up now; I have only paid my debt to you. Do you remember the dead man whom the bad people wished to throw out of his coffin? You gave all you possessed that he might rest in his grave; I am that man." As he said this, he vanished.

The wedding festivities lasted a whole month. John and his princess loved each other dearly, and the old king lived to see many a happy day, when he took their little children on his knees and let them play with his sceptre. And John became king over the whole country.




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