The travelling companion


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.
Den stakkels Johannes var så bedrøvet, for hans fader var meget syg og kunne ikke leve. Der var slet ingen uden de to inde i den lille stue; lampen på bordet var ved at brænde ud, og det var ganske sildigt på aftnen.
"Du var en god søn, Johannes!" sagde den syge fader, "Vorherre vil nok hjælpe dig frem i verden!" og han så med alvorlige milde øjne på ham, trak vejret ganske dybt og døde; det var ligesom om han sov. Men Johannes græd, nu havde han slet ingen i hele verden, hverken fader eller moder, søster eller broder. Den stakkels Johannes! Han lå på sine knæ foran sengen og kyssede den døde faders hånd, græd så mange salte tårer, men til sidst lukkede hans øjne sig og han sov ind med hovedet på den hårde sengefjæl.
Da drømte han en underlig drøm; han så, hvor Sol og Måne nejede for ham, og han så sin fader frisk og sund igen og hørte ham le, som han altid lo når han var rigtig fornøjet. En dejlig pige, med guldkrone på sit lange smukke hår, rakte Johannes hånden, og hans fader sagde, "ser du, hvilken brud du har fået? Hun er den dejligste i hele verden." Så vågnede han, og alt det smukke var borte, hans fader lå død og kold i sengen, der var slet ingen hos dem; den stakkels Johannes!
Ugen derefter blev den døde begravet; Johannes gik tæt bag kisten, kunne nu ikke mere få den gode fader at se, som havde holdt så meget af ham; han hørte, hvor de kastede jorden ned på kisten, så nu det sidste hjørne af den, men ved den næste skuffe jord, der blev kastet ned, var det også borte; da var det ligesom hans hjerte ville gå i stykker, så bedrøvet var han. Rundt om sang de en salme, det klang så smukt og tårerne kom Johannes i øjnene, han græd og det gjorde godt i hans sorg. Solen skinnede dejligt på de grønne træer, ligesom den ville sige: "Du skal ikke være så bedrøvet Johannes! kan du se, hvor smuk blå himlen er; deroppe er nu din fader og beder den gode Gud, at det altid må gå dig vel!"
"Jeg vil altid være god!" sagde Johannes, "så kommer jeg også op i Himmelen til min fader, og hvor det vil blive en glæde, når vi ser hinanden igen! hvor der vil være meget, jeg kan fortælle ham, og han vil igen vise mig så mange ting, lære mig så meget af alt det dejlige i Himmelen, ligesom han lærte mig her på Jorden. Oh hvor det vil blive en glæde!"
Johannes tænkte sig det så tydeligt, at han smilede derved, medens tårerne endnu løb ham ned over kinderne. De små fugle sad oppe i kastanjetræerne og kvidrede "kvivit, kvivit!" de var så fornøjede, skønt de jo var med ved begravelsen, men de vidste nok, at den døde mand nu var oppe i Himmelen, havde vinger, langt smukkere og større end deres, var nu lykkelig, fordi han havde været god her på jorden, og derover var de fornøjet. Johannes så, hvor de fløj fra de grønne træer, langt ud i verden, og han fik da også sådan lyst til at flyve med. Men først skar han et stort trækors til at sætte på sin faders grav, og da han om aftnen bragte det derhen, var graven pyntet med sand og blomster; det havde fremmede folk gjort, for de holdt alle sammen så meget af den kære fader, som nu var død.
Tidlig næste morgen pakkede Johannes sin lille bylt sammen, gemte i sit bælte hele sin arvepart, der var 50 rdlr. og et par sølvskillinger, dermed ville han vandre ud i verden. Men først gik han hen på kirkegården til sin faders grav, læste sit "fadervor," og sagde: "Farvel du kære fader! Jeg vil altid være et godt menneske, og så tør du nok bede den gode Gud, at det må gå mig godt!"
Ude på marken, hvor Johannes gik, stod alle blomsterne så friske og dejlige i det varme solskin, og de nikkede i vinden ligesom om de ville sige: "Velkommen i det grønne! Er her ikke nydeligt?" Men Johannes drejede sig endnu engang om, for at se den gamle kirke, hvor han, som lille barn, var døbt, hvor han hver søndag med sin gamle fader havde været i kirke og sunget sin salme; da så han højt oppe i et af hullerne i tårnet, kirkenissen stå med sin lille røde, spidse hue, han skyggede for sit ansigt med den bøjede arm, da ellers solen skar ham i øjnene. Johannes nikkede farvel til ham, og den lille nisse svingede sin røde hue, lagde hånden på hjertet og kyssede mange gange på fingrene, for at vise, hvor godt han ønskede ham det, og at han ret måtte gøre en lykkelig rejse.
Johannes tænkte på hvor meget smukt han nu skulle få at se i den store prægtige verden, og gik længere og længere bort, så langt som han aldrig før havde været; han kendte slet ikke de byer, han kom igennem, eller de mennesker, han mødte, nu var han langt ude mellem fremmede.
Den første nat måtte han lægge sig at sove i en høstak på marken, anden seng havde han ikke. Men det var just nydeligt, syntes han, kongen kunne ikke have det pænere. Den hele mark ved åen, høstakken og så den blå himmel oven over, var just et smukt sovekammer. Det grønne græs med de små røde og hvide blomster var gulvtæppe, hyldebuskene og de vilde rosenhække var blomsterbuketter, og som vandfad havde han hele åen med det klare, friske vand, hvor sivene nejede, og sagde både god aften og god morgen. Månen var en rigtig stor natlampe, højt oppe under det blå loft, og den stak ikke ild i gardinerne; Johannes kunne sove ganske roligt, og han gjorde det også, vågnede først igen, da solen stod op og alle de små fugle rundt omkring, sang: "God morgen! god morgen! Er du ikke oppe?"
Klokkerne ringede til kirke, det var søndag, folk gik hen at høre præsten og Johannes fulgte med dem, sang en salme og hørte Guds ord, og det var ligesom han var i sin egen kirke, hvor han var døbt, og havde sunget salmer med sin fader.
Ude på kirkegården var der så mange grave, og på nogle voksede der højt græs. Da tænkte Johannes på sin faders grav, der også måtte komme til at se ud som disse, nu han ikke kunne luge og pynte den. Han satte sig da ned og rykkede græsset af, rejste trækorsene op, der var faldet om, og lagde kransene, som vinden havde revet bort fra gravene, igen på deres sted, idet han tænkte, måske at en gør det samme ved min faders grav, nu jeg ikke kan gøre det!
Uden for kirkegårdsporten stod en gammel tigger og støttede sig på sin krykke, Johannes gav ham de sølvskillinger han havde og gik så lykkelig og fornøjet længere frem, ud i den vide verden.
Mod aften blev det et skrækkeligt ondt vejr, Johannes skyndte sig for at komme under tag, men det blev snart mørk nat; da nåede han endelig en lille kirke, der lå ganske ensom oppe på en høj, døren stod til lykke på klem, og han smuttede ind; her ville han blive, til det onde vejr lagde sig.
"Her vil jeg sætte mig i en krog!" sagde han, "jeg er ganske træt, og kan nok trænge til at hvile mig lidt," så satte han sig ned, foldede sine hænder, og læste sin aftenbøn og, inden han vidste af det, sov og drømte han, mens det lynede og tordnede udenfor.
Da han vågnede igen, var det midt ud på natten, men det onde vejr var trukket over, og månen skinnede ind af vinduerne til ham. Midt på kirkegulvet stod der en åben ligkiste med en død mand i, for han var endnu ikke begravet. Johannes var slet ikke bange, for han havde en god samvittighed, og han vidste nok, at de døde gør ingen noget; det er levende, onde mennesker, der gør fortræd. Sådanne to levende, slemme folk stod tæt ved den døde mand, der var sat herind i kirken, før han blev lagt ned i graven, de ville gøre ham fortræd, ikke lade ham ligge i sin ligkiste, men kaste ham uden for kirkedøren, den stakkels døde mand.
"Hvorfor vil I gøre det!" spurgte Johannes, "det er ondt og slemt, lad ham sove i Jesu navn!"
"Oh, sniksnak!" sagde de to fæle mennesker, "han har narret os! han skylder os penge, dem kunne han ikke betale, og nu er han oven i købet død, så få vi ikke en skilling, derfor vil vi rigtig hævne os, han skal ligge som en hund uden for kirkedøren!"
"Jeg har ikke mere end 50 rdlr.!" sagde Johannes, "det er hele min arvepart, men den vil jeg gerne give eder, når I vil ærligt love mig, at lade den stakkels døde mand i fred. Jeg skal nok komme ud af det, uden de penge; jeg har sunde stærke lemmer, og Vorherre vil altid hjælpe mig!"
"Ja," sagde de hæslige mennesker, "når du således vil betale hans gæld, skal vi såmænd ikke gøre ham noget, det kan du være vis på!" og så tog de pengene, Johannes gav dem, lo ordentlig ganske højt over hans godhed, og gik deres vej; men Johannes lagde liget tilrette igen i kisten, foldede hænderne på det, sagde farvel, og gik nok så tilfreds videre gennem den store skov.
Rundt omkring, hvor Månen kunne skinne ind i mellem træerne, så han de nydelige små alfer lege nok så lystigt; de lod sig ikke forstyrre, de vidste nok, han var et godt uskyldigt menneske, og det er kun de onde folk, der ikke må få alferne at se. Nogle af dem var ikke større end en finger og havde deres gule hår hæftet op med guldkamme, to og to gyngede de på de store dugdråber, der lå på bladene og det høje græs; sommetider trillede dråben, så faldt de ned mellem de lange græsstrå og der blev latter og støj af de andre småpuslinger. Det var uhyre morsomt! De sang og Johannes kendte ganske tydeligt alle de smukke viser, han havde lært som lille dreng. Store brogede edderkopper med sølvkroner på hovedet, måtte fra den ene hæk til den anden spinde lange hængebroer og paladser, der, da den fine dug faldt på, så ud som skinnende glas i det klare måneskin. Således varede det ved, lige til Solen stod op. De små alfer krøb da ind i blomsterknopperne og vinden tog i deres broer og slotte, der da fløj hen i luften, som store spindelvæv
Johannes var nu kommet ud af skoven, da en stærk mandsstemme råbte bag ved ham: "Holla, kammerat! hvorhen gælder rejsen?"
"Ud i den vide verden!" sagde Johannes. "Jeg har hverken fader eller moder, er en fattig knøs, men Vorherre hjælper mig nok!"
"Jeg vil også ud i den vide verden!" sagde den fremmede mand. "Skal vi to gøre følgeskab!"
"Ja nok!" sagde Johannes, og så fulgtes de ad. De kom snart til at holde meget af hinanden, for de var gode mennesker begge to. Men Johannes mærkede nok, at den fremmede var meget klogere end han, han havde været næsten hele verden rundt, og vidste at fortælle om alt det mulige, der er til.
Solen var allerede højt oppe, da de satte dem under et stort træ, for at spise deres frokost; i det samme kom der en gammel kone. Oh, hun var så gammel og gik ganske krum, støttede sig på en krykkestok, og havde på sin ryg et knippe brænde, som hun havde samlet sig i skoven. Hendes forklæde var hæftet op, og Johannes så at tre store ris af bregner og pilekviste stak ud fra det. I det hun var ganske nær dem, gled hendes ene fod, hun faldt om og gav et højt skrig, for hun havde brækket sit ben, den stakkels gamle kone.
Johannes ville straks, at de skulle bære hende hjem, hvor hun boede, men den fremmede lukkede sin ransel op, tog en krukke frem, og sagde, at han havde her en salve, der straks kunne gøre hendes ben helt og raskt, så at hun selv kunne gå hjem, og det som om hun aldrig havde brækket benet. Men derfor ville han også, at hun skulle forære ham de tre ris, hun havde i sit forklæde.
"Det er godt betalt!" sagde den gamle og nikkede ganske underligt med hovedet; hun ville ikke så meget gerne af med sine ris, men det var heller ikke så rart, at ligge med benet brækket; så gav hun ham risene, og lige så snart han havde gnedet salven på benet, rejste også den gamle mutter sig op, og gik meget bedre end før. Det kunne den salve gøre. Men den var heller ikke at få på apoteket.
"Hvad vil du med de ris?" spurgte Johannes nu sin rejsekammerat.
"Det er tre pæne urtekoste!" sagde han, "dem kan jeg just lide, for jeg er en løjerlig fyr!"
Så gik de endnu et godt stykke.
"Nej, hvor det trækker op!" sagde Johannes, og pegede ligefrem; "det er nogle forskrækkelige tykke skyer!"
"Nej," sagde rejsekammeraten, "det er ikke skyer, det er bjergene. De dejlige store bjerge, hvor man kommer helt op over skyen i den friske luft! Det er herligt, kan du tro! I morgen er vi vist så langt ude i verden!"
Det var ikke så nær ved, som det så ud, de brugte en hel dag at gå, før de kom til bjergene, hvor de sorte skove voksede lige op mod himlen, og hvor der var sten lige så store som en hel by; det ville rigtignok blive en svær tur at komme der helt over, men derfor gik også Johannes og rejsekammeraten ind i værtshuset, for at hvile sig godt og samle kræfter til marchen i morgen.
Nede i den store skænkestue i værtshuset var så mange mennesker samlet, for der var en mand, som gjorde dukkekomedie; han havde just stillet sit lille teater op, og folk sad rundt omkring for at se den komedie, men allerforrest havde en gammel tyk slagter taget plads, og det den allerbedste; hans store bulbider, uh, den så så glubsk ud! sad ved siden af ham og gjorde øjne, ligesom alle de andre.
Nu begyndte komedien, og det var en pæn komedie med en konge og en dronning, de sad på den dejligste trone, havde guldkroner på hovedet og lange slæb på kjolerne, for det havde de råd til. De nydeligste trædukker med glasøjne og store knebelsbarter stod ved alle døre, og lukkede op og i for at der kunne komme frisk luft i stuen! Det var just en nydelig komedie, og den var slet ikke sørgelig, men lige i det dronningen rejste sig op og gik hen ad gulvet, så ja Gud må vide, hvad den store bulbider tænkte; men da den tykke slagter ikke holdt på ham, gjorde han et spring lige ind på teatret, tog dronningen midt i hendes tynde liv, så det sagde "knik, knak!" Det var ganske forskrækkeligt!
Den stakkels mand, som gjorde den hele komedie, blev så forskrækket og så bedrøvet for sin dronning, for det var den allernydeligste dukke, han havde, og nu havde den ækle bulbider bidt hovedet af hende; men da folk siden gik bort, sagde den fremmede, han som var kommet med Johannes, at han nok skulle gøre hende i stand; og så tog han sin krukke frem og smurte dukken med den salve, han hjalp den stakkels gamle kone med, da hun havde brækket sit ben. Lige så snart dukken var smurt, blev den straks hel igen, ja den kunne endogså selv røre alle sine lemmer, man behøvede slet ikke at trække i snoren; dukken var som et levende menneske, på det nær at den ikke kunne tale. Manden, som havde det lille dukketeater, blev så fornøjet, nu behøvede han slet ikke at holde på den dukke, den kunne jo danse af sig selv. Det var der ingen af de andre der kunne.
Da det siden blev nat, og alle folk i værtshuset var gået i seng, var der en, der sukkede så forskrækkelig dybt, og blev så længe ved, så de alle sammen stod op, for at se hvem det kunne være. Manden, der havde gjort komedien, gik hen til sit lille teater, for det var der inde, at nogen sukkede. Alle trædukkerne lå imellem hinanden, kongen og alle drabanterne, og det var dem, som sukkede så ynkeligt og stirrede med deres store glasøjne, for de ville så gerne blive smurt lidt ligesom dronningen, at de også kunne komme til at røre sig af sig selv. Dronningen lagde sig lige ned på sine knæ, og rakte sin dejlige guldkrone i vejret, mens hun bad; "tag kun den, men smør min gemal og mine hoffolk!" da kunne den stakkels mand, der ejede komedien og alle dukkerne, ikke lade være at græde, for det gjorde ham virkelig så ondt for dem; han lovede straks rejsekammeraten, at han ville give ham alle de penge, han fik for sin komedie næste aften, når han bare ville smøre fire, fem af hans pæneste dukker; men rejsekammeraten sagde, at han forlangte slet ikke andet, end den store sabel, han havde ved sin side, og da han fik den, smurte han seks dukker, der straks dansede og det var så nydeligt, at alle pigerne, de levende menneskepiger, som så derpå, gav sig til at danse med. Kusken og kokkepigen dansede, tjeneren og stuepigen, alle de fremmede, og ildskuffen og ildklemmen; men de to faldt om, lige i det de gjorde de første spring, jo det var en lystig nat.
Næste morgen gik Johannes med sin rejsekammerat bort fra dem alle sammen, og opad de høje bjerge, og igennem de store granskove. De kom så højt op, at kirketårnene dybt under dem til sidst så ud som små røde bær, nede i alt det grønne, og de kunne se så langt bort, mange, mange mil, hvor de aldrig havde været! så meget smukt af den dejlige verden havde Johannes aldrig før set på en gang, og Solen skinnede så varmt fra den friske blå luft, han hørte også jægerne blæse på valdhorn inde mellem bjergene, så smukt og velsignet, at han fik vandet i øjnene af glæde, og kunne ikke lade være at sige: "Du gode Vorherre! jeg kunne kysse dig, fordi du er så god mod os alle sammen, og har givet os al den dejlighed, der er i verden!"
Rejsekammeraten stod også med foldede hænder, og så ud over skoven og byerne, i det varme solskin. I det samme klang det forunderligt dejligt over deres hoveder, de så op i vejret: En stor hvid svane svævede i luften; den var så smuk, og sang, som de aldrig før havde hørt nogen fugl synge; men det blev mere og mere svagt, den bøjede sit hoved og sank, ganske langsomt ned for deres fødder, hvor den lå død, den smukke fugl.
"To så dejlige vinger," sagde rejsekammeraten, "så hvide og store, som de, fuglen har, er penge værd, dem vil jeg tage med mig! kan du nu se, at det var godt, jeg fik en sabel!" og så huggede han med ét slag begge vingerne af den døde svane, dem ville han beholde.
De rejste nu mange, mange mil frem over bjergene, til de til sidst foran dem så en stor stad, med over hundrede tårne, der skinnede som sølv i solskinnet; midt i byen var et prægtigt marmorslot, tækket med det røde guld, og her boede kongen.
Johannes og rejsekammeraten ville ikke straks gå ind i byen, men blev i værtshuset udenfor, at de kunne pynte sig, thi de ville se pæne ud, når de kom på gaden. Værten fortalte dem, at kongen var sådan en god mand, der aldrig gjorde noget menneske noget, hverken det ene eller det andet, men at hans datter, ja Gud bevare os! det var en slem prinsesse. Dejlighed havde hun nok af, ingen kunne være så smuk og nydelig, som hun, men hvad hjalp det, hun var en slem, ond heks, der var skyld i, at så mange dejlige prinser havde mistet deres liv. Alle mennesker havde hun givet lov at fri til hende; enhver kunne komme, enten han var en prins, eller en stodder, det kunne være lige et og det samme; han skulle bare gætte tre ting, hun spurgte ham om, kunne han det, så ville hun gifte sig med ham, og han skulle være konge over det hele land, når hendes fader døde; men kunne han ikke gætte de tre ting, så lod hun ham hænge eller halshugge, så slem og ond var den dejlige prinsesse. Hendes fader, den gamle konge, var bedrøvet derover, men han kunne ikke forbyde hende, at være så ond, for han havde engang sagt, han ville aldrig have det mindste at gøre med hendes kærester, hun kunne selv gøre, ligesom hun ville. Hver en gang der kom en prins og skulle gætte, for at få prinsessen, så kunne han ikke komme ud af det, og så blev han hængt eller halshugget; de havde jo advaret ham i tide, han kunne lade være at fri. Den gamle konge var så bedrøvet over al den sorg og elendighed, at han en hel dag om året lå på knæ, med alle sine soldater, og bad, at prinsessen måtte blive god, men det ville hun slet ikke. De gamle koner, som drak brændevin, farvede det ganske sort, før de drak det, således sørgede de, og mere kunne de ikke gøre.
"Den hæslige prinsesse!" sagde Johannes, "hun skulle virkelig have ris, det kunne hun have godt af. Bare jeg var den gamle konge, hun skulle nok komme til at spytte røde grise!"
I det samme hørte de folk udenfor råbe hurra! Prinsessen kom forbi, og hun var virkelig så dejlig, at alle folk glemte, hvor ond hun var, derfor råbte de hurra. Tolv dejlige jomfruer, alle sammen i hvide silkekjoler, og med en guldtulipan i hånden, red på kulsorte heste, ved siden af hende; prinsessen selv havde en kridhvid hest, pyntet med diamanter og rubiner, hendes ridedragt var af det pure guld, og pisken, hun havde i hånden, så ud, som den var en solstråle; guldkronen på hovedet var ligesom små stjerner oppe fra himlen, og kåben var syet af over tusinde dejlige sommerfuglevinger; alligevel var hun meget smukkere, end alle hendes klæder.
Da Johannes fik hende at se, blev han så rød i sit ansigt, som et dryppende blod, og han kunne knap sige et eneste ord; prinsessen så jo ganske ud, som den dejlige pige med guldkrone på, han havde drømt om den nat, hans fader var død. Han fandt hende så smuk, og kunne ikke lade være at holde så meget af hende. Det var bestemt ikke sandt, sagde han, at hun kunne være en ond heks, der lod folk hænge eller halshugge, når de ikke kunne gætte, hvad hun forlangte af dem. "Enhver har jo lov at fri til hende, endogså den fattigste stodder, jeg vil virkelig gå op på slottet! for jeg kan ikke lade være!"
De sagde alle sammen, at det skulle han ikke gøre, det ville bestemt gå ham, ligesom alle de andre. Rejsekammeraten rådede ham også derfra, men Johannes mente, det gik nok godt, børstede sine sko og sin kjole, vaskede ansigt og hænder, kæmmede sit smukke, gule hår, og gik så ganske alene ind til byen, og op på slottet.
"Kom ind!" sagde den gamle konge, da Johannes bankede på døren. Johannes lukkede op, og den gamle konge, i slåbrok og broderede tøfler, kom ham i møde, guldkronen havde han på hovedet, sceptret i den ene hånd og guldæblet i den anden. "Bi lidt!" sagde han, og fik æblet op under armen, for at kunne række Johannes hånden. Men så snart han fik at høre, det var en frier, begyndte han således at græde, at både scepter og æble faldt på gulvet, og han måtte tørre øjnene i sin slåbrok. Den stakkels gamle konge!
"Lad være!" sagde han, "det går dig galt, ligesom alle de andre. Nu skal du bare se!" så førte han Johannes ud i prinsessens lysthave, der så forskrækkeligt ud! Oppe i hvert træ hang tre, fire kongesønner, der havde friet til prinsessen, men ikke kunne gætte de ting, hun havde sagt dem. Hver gang det blæste, ranglede alle knoklerne, så de små fugle blev forskrækket, og turde aldrig komme ind i den have; alle blomsterne var bundet op med menneskeben, og i urtepotterne stod dødningehoveder og grinte. Det var rigtignok en have for en prinsesse
"Her kan du se!" sagde den gamle konge, "det vil gå dig, ligesom alle de andre, du her ser, lad derfor hellere være; du gør mig virkelig ulykkelig, for jeg tager mig det så nær!"
Johannes kyssede den gode gamle konge på hånden, og sagde, det gik nok godt, for han holdt så meget af den dejlige prinsesse.
I det samme kom prinsessen selv, med alle sine damer, ridende ind i slotsgården, de gik derfor ud til hende, og sagde god dag. Hun var nydelig, rakte Johannes hånden, og han holdt endnu meget mere af hende end før, hun kunne bestemt ikke være en slem ond heks, som alle folk sagde om hende. De gik op i salen, og de små pager præsenterede syltetøj og pebernødder for dem, men den gamle konge var så bedrøvet, han kunne slet ikke spise noget, og pebernødderne var ham også for hårde.
Det blev nu bestemt, at Johannes skulle komme igen op på slottet næste morgen, da ville dommerne og hele rådet være forsamlet, og høre, hvorledes han kom ud af det med at gætte. Kom han godt ud af det, så skulle han endnu komme to gange til, men der var endnu aldrig nogen, som havde gættet den første gang, og så måtte de miste livet.
Johannes var slet ikke bedrøvet for, hvorledes det ville gå ham, han var just fornøjet, tænkte kun på den dejlige prinsesse, og troede ganske vist, at den gode Gud nok hjalp ham, men hvorledes, det vidste han slet ikke, og ville heller ikke tænke derpå. Han dansede hen ad landevejen, da han gik tilbage til værtshuset, hvor rejsekammeraten ventede på ham.
Johannes kunne ikke blive færdig med at fortælle, hvor nydelig prinsessen havde været imod ham, og hvor dejlig hun var; han længtes allerede så meget efter den næste dag, han skulle derind på slottet, og forsøge sin lykke med at gætte.
Men rejsekammeraten rystede på hovedet, og var ganske bedrøvet. "Jeg holder så meget af dig!" sagde han, "vi kunne endnu have været længe sammen, og nu skal jeg allerede miste dig! du stakkels, kære Johannes, jeg kunne gerne græde, men jeg vil ikke forstyrre din glæde den sidste aften måske, vi er sammen. Vi vil være lystige, rigtig lystige; i morgen, når du er borte, har jeg lov til at græde!"
Alle folk inde i byen havde straks fået at vide, at der var kommet en ny frier til prinsessen, og der var derfor en stor bedrøvelse. Komediehuset blev lukket, alle kagekonerne bandt sort flor om deres sukkergrise, kongen og præsterne lå på knæ i kirken, der var sådan en bedrøvelse, for det kunne jo ikke gå Johannes bedre, end det var gået alle de andre friere.
Ud på aftnen lavede rejsekammeraten en stor bolle punch, og sagde til Johannes, at nu skulle de være rigtig lystige, og drikke prinsessens skål. Men da Johannes havde drukket to glas, blev han så søvnig, det var ham ikke muligt at holde øjnene oppe, han måtte falde i søvn. Rejsekammeraten løftede ham ganske sagte op fra stolen, og lagde ham hen i sengen, og da det så blev mørk nat, tog han de to store vinger, han havde hugget af svanen, bandt dem fast på sine skuldre, det største ris, han havde fået af den gamle kone, der faldt og brækkede benene, stak han i sin lomme, lukkede vinduet op, og fløj så ind over byen, lige hen til slottet, hvor han satte sig i en krog, oppe under det vindue, der gik ind til prinsessens sovekammer.
Det var ganske stille i hele byen; nu slog klokken tre kvarter til tolv, vinduet gik op, og prinsessen fløj i en stor hvid kåbe og med lange sorte vinger, hen over byen, ud til et stort bjerg; men rejsekammeraten gjorde sig usynlig, således at hun slet ikke kunne se ham, fløj bagefter, og piskede på prinsessen med sit ris, så at der ordentlig kom blod, hvor han slog. Uh, det var en fart helt igennem luften, vinden tog i hendes kåbe, der bredte sig ud til alle sider, ligesom et stort skibssejl, og Månen skinnede igennem den.
"Hvor det hagler! hvor det hagler!" sagde prinsessen ved hvert slag, hun fik af riset, og det kunne hun have godt af. Endelig kom hun da ud til bjerget og bankede på. Det rullede ligesom torden, idet bjerget åbnede sig, og prinsessen gik der ind, rejsekammeraten fulgte med, for slet ingen kunne se ham, han var usynlig. De gik igennem en stor, lang gang, hvor væggene gnistrede ganske forunderligt, det var over tusinde gloende edderkopper, der løb op og ned af muren, og lyste ligesom ild. Nu kom de i en stor sal, bygget af sølv og guld, blomster, så store som solsikker, røde og blå, skinnede fra væggene; men ingen kunne plukke de blomster, for stilken var fæle, giftige slanger, og blomsterne var ild, der stod dem ud af munden. Hele loftet var besat med skinnende sankthansorme og himmelblå flagermus, der slog med de tynde vinger, det så ganske forunderligt ud. Midt på gulvet var en trone, den blev båret af fire hestebenrade, der havde seletøj af de røde ildedderkopper, tronen selv var af mælkehvidt glas, og puderne til at sidde på var små sorte mus, der bed hinanden i halen. Oven over den var et tag af rosenrødt spindelvæv, besat med de nydeligste små grønne fluer, der skinnede som ædelstene. Midt på tronen sad en gammel trold, med krone på det stygge hoved, og et scepter i hånden. Han kyssede prinsessen på hendes pande, lod hende sidde ved siden af sig på den kostbare trone, og nu begyndte musikken. Store, sorte græshopper spillede på mundharpe, og uglen slog sig selv på maven, for den havde ingen tromme. Det var en løjerlig koncert. Små sorte nisser, med en lygtemand på huen, dansede rundt i salen. Ingen kunne se rejsekammeraten, han havde stillet sig lige bag ved tronen, og hørte og så alle ting. Hoffolkene, som nu også kom ind, var så pæne og fornemme, men den, der rigtigt kunne se, mærkede nok, hvorledes de havde det. Det var ikke andet, end kosteskafter med kålhoveder på, som trolden havde hekset liv i, og givet de broderede klæder. Men det kunne jo også være det samme, de brugtes kun til stads.
Da der nu var danset noget, fortalte prinsessen til trolden, at hun havde fået en ny frier, og spurgte derfor, hvad hun vel skulle tænke på at spørge ham om næste morgen, når han kom op på slottet.
"Hør!" sagde trolden, "nu skal jeg sige dig noget! Du skal tage noget meget let, for så falder han slet ikke på det. Tænk du på din ene sko. Det gætter han ikke. Lad så hovedet hugge af ham, men glem ikke, når du i morgen nat kommer herud igen til mig, at bringe mig hans øjne, for dem vil jeg spise!"
Prinsessen nejede ganske dybt, og sagde, hun skulle ikke glemme øjnene. Trolden lukkede nu bjerget op, og hun fløj hjem igen, men rejsekammeraten fulgte med, og pryglede hende så stærkt med riset, at hun sukkede ganske dybt over det stærke haglvejr, og skyndte sig alt hvad hun kunne, med at komme igennem vinduet ind i sit sovekammer; men rejsekammeraten fløj tilbage til kroen, hvor Johannes endnu sov, løste sine vinger af, og lagde sig så også på sengen, for han kunne sagtens være træt.
Det var ganske tidligt på morgnen, da Johannes vågnede, rejsekammeraten stod også op, og fortalte, at han i nat havde drømt en meget underlig drøm om prinsessen og hendes sko, og bad ham derfor endelig spørge, om prinsessen ikke skulle have tænkt på sin sko! For det var jo det, han havde hørt af trolden inde i bjerget, men han ville ikke fortælle Johannes noget derom, bad ham bare at spørge, om hun havde tænkt på sin sko.
"Jeg kan lige så godt spørge om det ene, som om det andet," sagde Johannes, "måske kan det være ganske rigtigt, hvad du har drømt, for jeg tror nu alle tider, Vorherre hjælper mig nok! Men jeg vil dog sige dig farvel, for gætter jeg galt, får jeg dig aldrig mere at se!"
Så kyssede de hinanden, og Johannes gik ind til byen og op på slottet. Hele salen var ganske fyldt med mennesker, dommerne sad i deres lænestole, og havde edderdunsdyner under hovedet, for de havde så meget at tænke på. Den gamle konge stod op og tørrede sine øjne i et hvidt lommetørklæde. Nu trådte prinsessen ind, hun var endnu meget dejligere, end i går, og hilste så kærligt til dem alle sammen, men Johannes gav hun hånden, og sagde: "God morgen, du!"
Nu skulle Johannes til at gætte, hvad hun havde tænkt på. Gud hvor hun så venligt på ham, men lige idet hun hørte ham sige det ene ord: sko, blev hun kridhvid i ansigtet, og rystede over sin hele krop, men det kunne ikke hjælpe hende noget, for han havde gættet rigtigt!
Hille den! hvor den gamle konge blev glad; han slog en kolbøtte, så det stod efter, og alle folk klappede i hænderne for ham og for Johannes, der nu havde gættet rigtigt den første gang.
Rejsekammeraten blev også fornøjet, da han fik at vide, hvor godt det var gået af; men Johannes lukkede sine hænder sammen og takkede den gode Gud, der vistnok ville hjælpe ham igen de to andre gange. Næste dag skulle der allerede gættes igen.
Aftnen gik ligesom den i går. Da Johannes sov, fløj rejsekammeraten efter prinsessen ud til bjerget, og pryglede hende endnu stærkere, end forrige gang, for nu havde han taget to ris; ingen fik ham at se, og han hørte alle ting. Prinsessen ville tænke på sin handske, og det fortalte han til Johannes, ligesom om det var en drøm; Johannes kunne da nok gætte rigtigt, og der blev sådan en glæde på slottet. Hele hoffet slog kolbøtter, ligesom de havde set kongen gøre den første gang; men prinsessen lå på sofaen og ville ikke sige et eneste ord. Nu kom det an på, om Johannes kunne gætte den tredje gang. Gik det godt, skulle han jo have den dejlige prinsesse, og arve det hele kongerige, når den gamle konge døde; gættede han galt, så skulle han miste sit liv, og trolden ville spise hans smukke blå øjne.
Aftnen i forvejen gik Johannes tidlig i seng, læste sin aftenbøn, og sov så ganske roligt; men rejsekammeraten spændte vingerne på sin ryg, bandt sablen ved sin side og tog alle tre ris med sig, og fløj så til slottet.
Det var ganske bælgmørk nat, det stormede så tagstenene fløj af husene, og træerne inde i haven, hvor benradene hang, svajede ligesom siv, når det blæste; det lynede hvert øjeblik, og tordenen rullede ligesom om det kun var et eneste skrald, der varede hele natten. Nu slog vinduet op, og prinsessen fløj ud; hun var så bleg, som en død, men hun lo af det onde vejr, syntes det var ikke stærkt nok, hendes hvide kåbe hvirvlede rundt i luften, ligesom et stort skibssejl, men rejsekammeraten piskede hende sådan med sine tre ris, så blodet dryppede ned på jorden, og hun til sidst næppe kunne flyve længere. Endelig kom hun da ud til bjerget.
"Det hagler og stormer," sagde hun; "aldrig har jeg været ude i sådant et vejr."
"Man kan også få for meget af det gode," sagde trolden. Nu fortalte hun ham, at Johannes også havde gættet rigtigt anden gang; gjorde han nu det samme i morgen, da havde han vundet, og hun kunne aldrig mere komme ud til bjerget, skulle aldrig kunne gøre sådanne troldkunster, som før; derfor var hun ganske bedrøvet.
"Han skal ikke kunne gætte!" sagde trolden, "jeg skal nok finde på noget, han aldrig har tænkt på! eller også må han være en større troldmand, end jeg. Men nu vil vi være lystige!" og så tog han prinsessen i begge hænder og de dansede rundt med alle de små nisser og lygtemænd, der var i stuen; de røde edderkopper sprang lige så lystigt op og ned af væggen, det så ud som ildblomsterne gnistrede. Uglen slog på tromme, fårekyllingerne peb og de sorte græshopper blæste på mundharpe. Det var et lystigt bal!
Da de nu havde danset længe nok, måtte prinsessen hjem, for ellers kunne hun blive savnet på slottet; trolden sagde, han nok ville følge hende, så var de dog så længe sammen endnu.
De fløj da af sted i det onde vejr, og rejsekammeraten sled sine tre ris op på deres rygstykker; aldrig havde trolden været ude i sådan et haglvejr. Uden for slottet sagde han farvel til prinsessen, og hviskede i det samme til hende: "Tænk på mit hoved," men rejsekammeraten hørte det nok, og lige i det øjeblik prinsessen smuttede igennem vinduet ind i sit sovekammer, og trolden ville vende om igen, greb han ham i hans lange sorte skæg, og huggede med sablen hans ækle troldhoved af lige ved skuldrene, så trolden ikke engang fik det selv at se; kroppen kastede han ud i søen til fiskene, men hovedet dykkede han kun ned i vandet, og bandt det så ind i sit silkelommetørklæde, tog det med hjem i værtshuset, og lagde sig så til at sove.
Næste morgen gav han Johannes lommetørklædet, men sagde, han ikke måtte løse det op, før prinsessen spurgte, hvad det var, hun havde tænkt på.
Der var så mange mennesker i den store sal på slottet, at de stod op på hinanden, ligesom radiser, der er bundet i et knippe. Rådet sad i deres stole med de bløde hovedpuder, og den gamle konge havde nye klæder på, guldkronen og scepteret var poleret, det så ganske nydeligt ud; men prinsessen var ganske bleg, og havde en kulsort kjole på, ligesom hun skulle til begravelse.
"Hvad har jeg tænkt på?" sagde hun til Johannes, og straks løste han lommetørklædet op, og blev selv ganske forskrækket, da han så det fæle troldhoved. Det gøs i alle mennesker, for det var forskrækkeligt at se, men prinsessen sad ligesom et stenbillede, og kunne ikke sige et eneste ord; til sidst rejste hun sig op, og gav Johannes hånden, for han havde jo gættet rigtigt; hun så hverken på den ene eller den anden, men sukkede ganske dybt: "Nu er du min herre! I aften vil vi holde bryllup!"
"Det kan jeg lide!" sagde den gamle konge, "således skal vi have det!" Alle folk råbte hurra, vagtparaden gjorde musik i gaderne, klokkerne ringede, og kagekonerne tog det sorte flor af deres sukkergrise, for nu var der glæde. Tre hele stegte okser, fyldte med ænder og høns, blev sat midt på torvet, enhver kunne der skære sig et stykke; i vandspringene sprang den dejligste vin, og købte man en skillingskringle hos bageren, fik man seks store boller i tilgift, og det boller med rosiner i.
Om aftnen var hele byen illumineret, og soldaterne skød med kanoner, og drengene med knaldperler, og der blev spist og drukket, klinket og sprunget oppe på slottet, alle de fornemme herrer og de dejlige frøkner dansede med hinanden; man kunne langt borte høre, hvor de sang:
"Her er så mange smukke piger,
som vil ha' dem en svingom,
de begærer tamburmarchen,
smukke pige, vend dig om.
Danser og tramper,
så skosålerne faldera!"
Men prinsessen var jo en heks endnu, og holdt slet ikke noget af Johannes; det huskede rejsekammeraten på, og derfor gav han Johannes tre fjer af svanevingerne, og en lille flaske med nogle dråber i, sagde til ham, at han skulle lade sætte ved brudesengen et stort kar, fyldt med vand, og når da prinsessen ville stige op i sengen, skulle han give hende et lille stød så hun faldt ned i vandet, hvor han skulle dykke hende tre gange, efter først at have kastet fjerene og dråberne deri, så ville hun blive fri for sin trolddom, og komme til at holde så meget af ham.
Johannes gjorde alt, hvad rejsekammeraten havde rådet ham; prinsessen skreg ganske højt, idet han dykkede hende ned under vandet, og sprællede ham under hænderne, som en stor, kulsort svane, med gnistrende øjne; da hun anden gang kom op over vandet igen, var svanen hvid, på en eneste sort ring nær, den havde om halsen. Johannes bad fromt til Vorherre, og lod vandet tredje gang spille hen over fuglen, og i samme øjeblik forvandledes den til den dejligste prinsesse. Hun var endnu smukkere end før, og takkede ham med tårer i sine dejlige øjne, fordi han havde hævet hendes fortryllelse. Næste morgen kom den gamle konge med hele sin hofstat, og der var en gratuleren til langt op på dagen; til allersidst kom da rejsekammeraten, han havde sin stok i hånden og ranslen på nakken. Johannes kyssede ham så mange gange, sagde, han måtte ikke rejse bort, han skulle blive hos ham, thi han var jo skyld i hele hans lykke. Men rejsekammeraten rystede med hovedet, og sagde så mildt og venligt: "Nej, nu er min tid omme. Jeg har kun betalt min gæld. Kan du huske den døde mand, de onde mennesker ville gøre fortræd. Du gav alt, hvad du ejede, for at han kunne have ro i sin grav. Den døde er jeg!"
I det samme var han borte.
Brylluppet varede nu en hel måned, Johannes og prinsessen holdt så meget af hinanden, og den gamle konge levede mange fornøjede dage og lod deres små bitte børn ride ranke på sit knæ og lege med sit scepter; men Johannes var konge over hele riget.