There was once on a time an old king who was ill, and thought to himself, "I am lying on what must be my death-bed."
Then he said, " Tell Faithful John to come to me."
Faithful John was his favourite servant, and was so called, because he had for his whole life long been so true to him. When therefore he came beside the bed, the king said to him, "Most faithful John, I feel my end approaching, and have no anxiety except about my son. He is still of tender age, and cannot always know how to guide himself. If you do not promise me to teach him everything that he ought to know, and to be his foster-father, I cannot close my eyes in peace."
Then answered Faithful John, "I will not forsake him, and will serve him with fidelity, even if it should cost me my life."
On this, the old king said, "Now I die in comfort and peace."
Then he added, "After my death, you shall show him the whole castle: all the chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the treasures which lie therein, but the last chamber in the long gallery, in which is the picture of the princess of the Golden Dwelling, shall you not show. If he sees that picture, he will fall violently in love with her, and will drop down in a swoon, and go through great danger for her sake, therefore you must preserve him from that."
And when Faithful John had once more given his promise to the old king about this, the king said no more, but laid his head on his pillow, and died.
When the old king had been carried to his grave, Faithful John told the young king all that he had promised his father on his deathbed, and said, "This will I assuredly perform, and will be faithful to you as I have been faithful to him, even if it should cost me my life."
When the mourning was over, Faithful John said to him, "It is now time that you should see your inheritance. I will show you your father's palace."
Then he took him about everywhere, up and down, and let him see all the riches, and the magnificent apartments, only there was one room which he did not open, that in which hung the dangerous picture. The picture was, however, so placed that when the door was opened you looked straight on it, and it was so admirably painted that it seemed to breathe and live, and there was nothing more charming or more beautiful in the whole world. The young king, however, plainly remarked that Faithful John always walked past this one door, and said, "Why do you never open this one for me?"
"There is something within it," he replied, "which would terrify you."
But the king answered, "I have seen all the palace, and I will know what is in this room also," and he went and tried to break open the door by force. Then Faithful John held him back and said, "I promised your father before his death that you should not see that which is in this chamber, it might bring the greatest misfortune on you and on me."
"Ah, no," replied the young king, "if I do not go in, it will be my certain destruction. I should have no rest day or night till I had seen it with my own eyes. I shall not leave the place now till you have unlocked the door."
Then Faithful John saw that there was no help for it now, and with a heavy heart and many sighs, sought out the key from the great bunch. When he had opened the door, he went in first, and thought by standing before him he could hide the portrait so that the king should not see it in front of him, but what availed that? The king stood on tip-toe and saw it over his shoulder. And when he saw the portrait of the maiden, which was so magnificent and shone with gold and precious stones, he fell fainting to the ground. Faithful John took him up, carried him to his bed, and sorrowfully thought, "The misfortune has befallen us, Lord God, what will be the end of it?" Then he strengthened him with wine, till he came to himself again. The first words the king said were, "Ah, the beautiful portrait! whose it it?"
"That is the princess of the Golden Dwelling," answered Faithful John. Then the king went on, "My love for her is so great, that if all the leaves on all the trees were tongues, they could not declare it. I will give my life to win her. You are my most Faithful John, you must help me."
The faithful servant considered within himself for a long time how to set about the matter, for it was difficult even to obtain a sight of the king's daughter. At length he thought of a way, and said to the king, "Everything which she has about her is of gold – tables, chairs, dishes, glasses, bowls, and household furniture. Among your treasures are five tons of gold; let one of the goldsmiths of the kingdom work these up into all manner of vessels and utensils, into all kinds of birds, wild beasts and strange animals, such as may please her, and we will go there with them and try our luck."
The king ordered all the goldsmiths to be brought to him, and they had to work night and day till at last the most splendid things were prepared. When everything was stowed on board a ship, Faithful John put on the dress of a merchant, and the king was forced to do the same in order to make himself quite unrecognizable. Then they sailed across the sea, and sailed on till they came to the town wherein dwelt the princess of the Golden Dwelling.
Faithful John bade the king stay behind on the ship, and wait for him.
"Perhaps I shall bring the princess with me," he said, "therefore see that everything is in order; have the golden vessels set out and the whole ship decorated."
Then he gathered together in his apron all kinds of gold things, went on shore and walked straight to the royal palace. When he entered the courtyard of the palace, a beautiful girl was standing there by the well with two golden buckets in her hand, drawing water with them. And when she was just turning round to carry away the sparkling water she saw the stranger, and asked who he was. So he answered, "I am a merchant," and opened his apron, and let her look in. Then she cried, "Oh, what beautiful gold things!" and put her pails down and looked at the golden wares one after the other. Then said the girl, "The princess must see these, she has such great pleasure in golden things, that she will buy all you have."
She took him by the hand and led him upstairs, for she was the waiting-maid. When the king's daughter saw the wares, she was quite delighted and said, "They are so beautifully worked, that I will buy them all of you."
But Faithful John said, "I am only the servant of a rich merchant. The things I have here are not to be compared with those my master has in his ship. They are the most beautiful and valuable things that have ever been made in gold."
She wanted to have everything brought to her there, but he said, "There are so many of them that it would take a great many days to do that, and so many rooms would be required to exhibit them, that your house is not big enough."
Then her curiosity and longing were still more excited, till at last she said, "Conduct me to the ship, I will go there myself, and behold the treasures of your master."
On this Faithful John was quite delighted, and led her to the ship, and when the king saw her, he perceived that her beauty was even greater than the picture had represented it to be, and thought no other than that his heart would burst in twain. Then she got into the ship, and the king led her within. Faithful John, however, remained behind with the pilot, and ordered the ship to be pushed off, saying, "Set all sail, till it fly like a bird in air."
Within, however, the king showed her the golden vessels, every one of them, also the wild beasts and strange animals. Many hours went by while she was seeing everything, and in her delight she did not observe that the ship was sailing away. After she had looked at the last, she thanked the merchant and wanted to go home, but when she came to the side of the ship, she saw that it was on the deep sea far from land, and hurrying onwards with all sail set.
"Ah," cried she in her alarm, "I am betrayed! I am carried away and have fallen into the power of a merchant – I would die rather!" The king, however, seized her hand, and said, "I am not a merchant. I am a king, and of no meaner origin than you are, and if I have carried you away with subtlety, that has come to pass because of my exceeding great love for you. The first time that I looked on your portrait, I fell fainting to the ground."
When the princess of the Golden Dwelling heard that, she was comforted, and her heart was inclined to him, so that she willingly consented to be his wife.
It so happened, however, while they were sailing onwards over the deep sea, that Faithful John, who was sitting on the fore part of the vessel, making music, saw three ravens in the air, which came flying towards them. On this he stopped playing and listened to what they were saying to each other, for that he well understood. One cried, "Oh, there he is carrying home the princess of the Golden Dwelling."
"Yes," replied the second, "but he has not got her yet."
Said the third, "But he has got her, she is sitting beside him in the ship."
Then the first began again, and cried, "What good will that do him? When they reach land a chestnut horse will leap forward to meet him, and the prince will want to mount it, but if he does that, it will run away with him, and rise up into the air with him, and he will never see his maiden more."
Spoke the second, "But is there no escape?"
"Oh, yes, if anyone else gets on it swiftly, and takes out the pistol which must be in its holster, and shoots the horse dead with it, the young king is saved. But who knows that? And whoever does know it, and tells it to him, will be turned to stone from the toe to the knee."
Then said the second, "I know more than that; even if the horse be killed, the young king will still not keep his bride. When they go into the castle together, a wrought bridal garment will be lying there in a dish, and looking as if it were woven of gold and silver; it is, however, nothing but sulphur and pitch, and if he put it on, it will burn him to the very bone and marrow."
Said the third, "Is there no escape at all?"
"Oh, yes," replied the second, "if anyone with gloves on seizes the garment and throws it into the fire and burns it, the young king will be saved.
"But what avails that?" Whoever knows it and tells it to him, half his body will become stone from the knee to the heart."
Then said the third, "I know still more; even if the bridal garment be burnt, the young king will still not have his bride. After the wedding, when the dancing begins and the young queen is dancing, she will suddenly turn pale and fall down as if dead, and if some one does not lift her up and draw three drops of blood from her right breast and spit them out again, she will die. But if anyone who knows that were to declare it, he would become stone from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot."
When the ravens had spoken of this together, they flew onwards, and Faithful John had well understood everything, but from that time forth he became quiet and sad, for if he concealed what he had heard from his master, the latter would be unfortunate, and if he discovered it to him, he himself must sacrifice his life. At length, however, he said to himself, "I will save my master, even if it bring destruction on myself."
When therefore they came to shore, all happened as had been foretold by the ravens, and a magnificent chestnut horse sprang forward.
"Good," said the king, "he shall carry me to my palace," and was about to mount it when Faithful John got before him, jumped quickly on it, drew the pistol out of the holster, and shot the horse. Then the other attendants of the king, who after all were not very fond of Faithful John, cried, "How shameful to kill the beautiful animal, that was to have carried the king to his palace."
But the king said, "Hold your peace and leave him alone, he is my most faithful John, who knows what may be the good of that!" They went into the palace, and in the hall there stood a dish, and therein lay the bridal garment looking no otherwise than as if it were made of gold and silver. The young king went towards it and was about to take hold of it, but Faithful John pushed him away, seized it with gloves on, carried it quickly to the fire and burnt it. The other attendants again began to murmur, and said, "Behold, now he is even burning the king's bridal garment!" But the young king said, "Who knows what good he may have done, leave him alone, he is my most faithful John."
And now the wedding was solemnized: the dance began, and the bride also took part in it; then Faithful John was watchful and looked into her face, and suddenly she turned pale and fell to the ground, as if she were dead. On this he ran hastily to her, lifted her up and bore her into a chamber – then he laid her down, and knelt and sucked the three drops of blood from her right breast, and spat them out. At once she breathed again and recovered herself, but the young king had seen this, and being ignorant why Faithful John had done it, was angry and cried, "Throw him into a dungeon."
Next morning Faithful John was condemned, and led to the gallows, and when he stood on high, and was about to be executed, he said, "Every one who has to die is permitted before his end to make one last speech; may I too claim the right?"
"Yes," answered the king, "it shall be granted to you."
Then said Faithful John, "I am unjustly condemned, and have always been true to you," and he related how he had hearkened to the conversation of the ravens when on the sea, and how he had been obliged to do all these things in order to save his master. Then cried the king, "Oh, my most Faithful John. Pardon, pardon – bring him down."
But as Faithful John spoke the last word he had fallen down lifeless and become a stone.
Thereupon the king and the queen suffered great anguish, and the king said, "Ah, how ill I have requited great fidelity!" and ordered the stone figure to be taken up and placed in his bedroom beside his bed. And as often as he looked on it he wept and said, "Ah, if I could bring you to life again, my most faithful John."
Some time passed and the queen bore twins, two sons who grew fast and were her delight. Once when the queen was at church and the two children were sitting playing beside their father, the latter full of grief again looked at the stone figure, sighed and said, "Ah, if I could but bring you to life again, my most faithful John."
Then the stone began to speak and said, "You can bring me to life again if you will use for that purpose what is dearest to you."
Then cried the king, "I will give everything I have in the world for you."
The stone went on, "If you will will cut off the heads of your two children with your own hand, and sprinkle me with their blood, I shall be restored to life."
The king was terrified when he heard that he himself must kill his dearest children, but he thought of faithful John's great fidelity, and how he had died for him, drew his sword, and with his own hand cut off the children's heads. And when he had smeared the stone with their blood, life returned to it, and Faithful John stood once more safe and healthy before him. He said to the king, "Your truth shall not go unrewarded," and took the heads of the children, put them on again, and rubbed the wounds with their blood, on which they became whole again at once, and jumped about, and went on playing as if nothing had happened. Then the king was full of joy, and when he saw the queen coming he hid Faithful John and the two children in a great cupboard. When she entered, he said to her, "Have you been praying in the church?"
"Yes," answered she, "but I have constantly been thinking of Faithful John and what misfortune has befallen him through us."
Then he said, "Dear wife, we can give him his life again, but it will cost us our two little sons, whom we must sacrifice."
The queen turned pale, and her heart was full of terror, but she said, "We owe it to him, for his great fidelity."
Then the king was rejoiced that she thought as he had thought, and went and opened the cupboard, and brought forth Faithful John and the children, and said, "God be praised, he is delivered, and we have our little sons again also," and told her how everything had occurred. Then they dwelt together in much happiness till their death.
There was once a peasant who had driven his cow to the fair, and sold her for seven thalers. On the way home he had to pass a pond, and already from afar he heard the frogs crying, "Aik, aik, aik, aik."
"Well," he said to himself, "they are talking without rhyme or reason, it is seven that I have received, not eight."
When he got to the water, he cried to them, "Stupid animals that you are! Don't you know better than that? It is seven thalers and not eight."
The frogs, however, stood to their, "aik aik, aik, aik."
"Come, then, if you won't believe it, I can count it out to you."
And he took his money out of his pocket and counted out the seven thalers, always reckoning four and twenty groschen to a thaler. The frogs, however, paid no attention to his reckoning, but still cried, "aik, aik, aik, aik."
"What," cried the peasant, quite angry, "since you are determined to know better than I, count it yourselves," and threw all the money into the water to them. He stood still and wanted to wait till they were done and had brought him his own again, but the frogs maintained their opinion and cried continually, "aik, aik, aik, aik," and besides that, did not throw the money out again. He still waited a long while till evening came on and he was forced to go home. Then he abused the frogs and cried, "You water-splashers, you thick-heads, you goggle-eyes, you have great mouths and can screech till you hurt one's ears, but you cannot count seven thalers! Do you think I'm going to stand here till you get done?" And with that he went away, but the frogs still cried, "aik, aik, aik, aik," after him till he went home quite angry.
After a while he bought another cow, which he killed, and he made the calculation that if he sold the meat well he might gain as much as the two cows were worth, and have the skin into the bargain. When therefore he got to the town with the meat, a great troop of dogs were gathered together in front of the gate, with a large greyhound at the head of them, which jumped at the meat, snuffed at it, and barked, "Wow, wow, wow."
As there was no stopping him, the peasant said to him, "Yes, yes, I know quite well that you are saying, 'wow, wow, wow,' because you wantest some of the meat; but I should fare badly if I were to give it to you."
The dog, however, answered nothing but "wow, wow."
"Will you promise not to devour it all then, and will you go bail for your companions?"
"Wow, wow, wow," said the dog.
"Well, if you insistest on it, I will leave it for you; I know you well, and know who is your master; but this I tell you, I must have my money in three days or else it will go ill with you; you must just bring it out to me."
Thereupon he unloaded the meat and turned back again, the dogs fell on it and loudly barked, "wow, wow."
The countryman, who heard them from afar, said to himself, "Hark, now they all want some, but the big one is responsible to me for it."
When three days had passed, the countryman thought, "Tonight my money will be in my pocket," and was quite delighted. But no one would come and pay it. "There is no trusting anyone now," he said; and at last he lost patience, and went into the town to the butcher and demanded his money. The butcher thought it was a joke, but the peasant said, "Jesting apart, I will have my money! Did not the great dog bring you the whole of the slaughtered cow three days ago?" Then the butcher grew angry, snatched a broomstick and drove him out.
"Wait a while," said the peasant, "there is still some justice in the world!" and went to the royal palace and begged for an audience. He was led before the king, who sat there with his daughter, and asked him what injury he had suffered.
"Alas!" he said, "the frogs and the dogs have taken from me what is mine, and the butcher has paid me for it with the stick," and he related at full length all that had happened. Thereupon the king's daughter began to laugh heartily, and the king said to him, "I cannot give you justice in this, but you shall have my daughter to wife for it, – in her whole life she has never yet laughed as she has just done at you, and I have promised her to him who could make her laugh. You may thank God for your good fortune!"
"Oh," answered the peasant, "I will not have her, I have a wife already, and she is one too many for me; when I go home, it is just as bad as if I had a wife standing in every corner."
Then the king grew angry, and said, "You are a boor."
"Ah, Lord king," replied the peasant, "what can you expect from an ox, but beef?"
"Stop," answered the king, "you shall have another reward. Be off now, but come back in three days, and then you shall have five hundred counted out in full."
When the peasant went out by the gate, the sentry said, "You have made the king's daughter laugh, so you will certainly receive something good."
"Yes, that is what I think," answered the peasant; "five hundred are to be counted out to me."
"Hark you," said the soldier, "give me some of it. What can you do with all that money?"
"As it is you," said the peasant, "you shall have two hundred; present yourself in three days' time before the king, and let it be paid to you."
A Jew, who was standing by and had heard the conversation, ran after the peasant, held him by the coat, and said, "Oh, wonder! what a luck-child you are! I will change it for you, I will change it for you into small coins, what do you want with the great thalers?"
"Jew," said the countryman, "three hundred can you still have; give it to me at once in coin, in three days from this, you will be paid for it by the king."
The Jew was delighted with the profit, and brought the sum in bad groschen, three of which were worth two good ones. After three days had passed, according to the king's command, the peasant went before the king. "Pull his coat off," said the latter, "and he shall have his five hundred."
"Ah!" said the peasant, "they no longer belong to me; I presented two hundred of them to the sentinel, and three hundred the Jew has changed for me, so by right nothing at all belongs to me."
In the meantime the soldier and the Jew entered and claimed what they had gained from the peasant, and they received the blows strictly counted out. The soldier bore it patiently and knew already how it tasted, but the Jew said sorrowfully, "Alas, alas, are these the heavy thalers?" The king could not help laughing at the peasant, and as all his anger was gone, he said, "As you have already lost your reward before it fell to your lot, I will give you something in the place of it. Go into my treasure chamber and get some money for yourself, as much as you will."
The peasant did not need to be told twice, and stuffed into his big pockets whatever would go in. Afterwards he went to an inn and counted out his money. The Jew had crept after him and heard how he muttered to himself, "That rogue of a king has cheated me after all, why could he not have given me the money himself, and then I should have known what I had? How can I tell now if what I have had the luck to put in my pockets is right or not?"
"Good heavens!" said the Jew to himself, "that man is speaking disrespectfully of our lord the king, I will run and inform, and then I shall get a reward, and he will be punished as well."
When the king heard of the peasant's words he fell into a passion, and commanded the Jew to go and bring the offender to him. The Jew ran to the peasant, "You are to go at once to the lord king in the very clothes you have on."
"I know what's right better than that," answered the peasant, "I shall have a new coat made first. Do you think that a man with so much money in his pocket is to go there in his ragged old coat?" The Jew, as he saw that the peasant would not stir without another coat, and as he feared that if the king's anger cooled, he himself would lose his reward, and the peasant his punishment, said, "I will out of pure friendship lend you a coat for the short time. What will people not do for love!" The peasant was contented with this, put the Jew's coat on, and went off with him.
The king reproached the countryman because of the evil speaking of which the Jew had informed him.
"Ah," said the peasant, "what a Jew says is always false --no true word ever comes out of his mouth! That rascal there is capable of maintaining that I have his coat on."
"What is that?" shrieked the Jew.
"Is the coat not mine? Have I not lent it to you out of pure friendship, in order that you might appear before the lord king?" When the king heard that, he said, "The Jew has assuredly deceived one or the other of us, either myself or the peasant," and again he ordered something to be counted out to him in hard thalers. The peasant, however, went home in the good coat, with the good money in his pocket, and said to himself, "This time I have hit it!"