THE TRAVELLING COMPANION 55
n her greatly. It could not be true that she was a wicked
witch, who caused people to be hanged or beheaded if they
could not guess the riddles she put to trTem.
' Every one has^permission to aspire to her hand, even the poorest beggar. I will really go to the castle, for I cannot help doing it ! '
They all told him not to attempt it, for certainly he would fare as all the rest had done. His travelling companion too tried to dissuade him ; but John thought it would end well. He brushed his shoes and his coat, washed his face and his hands, combed his beautiful yellow hair, and then went quite alone into the town and to the palace.
' Come in ! ' said the old king, when John knocked at the door.
John opened it, and the old king came towards him in a dressing-gown and embroidered slippers ; he had the crown on his head, and the sceptre in one hand and the orb in the other. ' Wait a little !' said he, and put the orb under his arm, so that he could reach out his hand to John. But as soon as he learned that his visitor was a suitor, he began to weep so violently that both the sceptre and the orb fell to the ground, and he was obliged to wipe his eyes with his dressing-gown. Poor old king !
' Give it up ! ' said he. ' You will fare badly, as all the others have done. Well, you shall see ! '
Then he led him out into the princess's pleasure-garden. There was a terrible sight ! In every tree there hung three or four kings' sons who had wooed the princess, but had not been able to guess the riddles she proposed to them. Each time that the breeze blew all the skeletons rattled, so that the little birds were frightened, and never dared to come into the garden. All the flowers were tied up to human bones, and in the flower-pots skulls stood and grinned. That was certainly a garden for a princess.
' Here you see it,' said the old king. ' It will chance to you as it has chanced to all these whom you see here; therefore you had better give it up. You will really make me unhappy, for I take these things very much to heart.'
John kissed the good old king's hand, and said it would go well, for that he was quite enchanted with the beautiful princess.