54 THE TRAVELLING COMPANION
about which she questioned him. If he could do that she would marry him, and he was to be king over the whole country when her father should die ; but if he could not guess the three things, she caused him to be hanged or to have his head cut off ! So evil and so wicked was the beautiful princess. Her father, the old king, was very sorry about it; but he could not forbid her to be so wicked, because he had once said that he would have nothing to do with her lovers ; she might do as she liked. Every time a prince came, and was to guess to gain the princess, he was unable to do it, and was hanged or lost his head. He had been warned in time, you see, and might have given over his wooing. The old king was so sorry for all this misery and woe, that he used to go down on his knees with all his soldiers for a whole day in every year, praying that the princess might become good ; but she would not, by any means. The old women who drank brandy used to colour it quite black before they drank it, they were in such deep mourning—and they certainly could not do more.
' The ugly princess ! ' said John ; ' she ought really to have the rod ; that would do her good. If I were only the old king she should be punished ! '
Then they heard the people outside shouting ' Hurrah ! ' The princess came by ; and she was really so beautiful that all the people forgot how wicked she was, and that is why they cried ' Hurrah ! ' Twelve beautiful virgins, all in white silk gowns, and each with a golden tulip in her hand, rode on coal-black steeds at her side. The princess herself had a snow-white horse, decked with diamonds and rubies. Her riding-habit was all of cloth of gold, and the whip she held in her hand looked like a sunbeam ; the golden crown on her head was just like little stars out of the sky, and her mantle was sewn together out of more than a thousand beautiful butterflies' wings. In spite of this, she herself was much more lovely than all her clothes.
When John saw her, his face became as red as a drop of blood, and he could hardly utter a word. The princess looked just like the beautiful lady with the golden crown, of whom he had dreamt on the night when his father died. He thought her so enchanting that he could not help loving