62 THE TRAVELLING COMPANION
the hands, and they danced about with all the little goblins and Jack-o'-lanterns that were in the room. The red spiders jumped just as merrily up and down the walls : it looked as if fiery flowers were spurting out. The owl played the drum, the crickets piped, and the black grasshoppers played on the jews'-harp. It was a merry ball.
When they had danced long enough the princess was obliged to go home, for she might be missed in the palace. The magician said he would accompany her, then they would have each other's company on the way.
Then they flew away into the bad weather, and the travelling companion broke his three rods across their backs. Never had the magician been out in such a hailstorm. In front of the palace he said good-bye to the princess, and whispered to her at the same time, ' Think of my head.' But the travelling companion heard it; and just at the moment when the princess slipped through the window into her bedroom, and the magician was about to turn back, he seized him by his long beard, and with his sabre cut off the ugly conjuror's head just by the shoulders, so that the magician did not even see him. The body he threw out into the sea to the fishes ; but the head he only dipped into the water, and then tied it in his silk handkerchief, took it with him into the inn, and then lay down to sleep.
Next morning he gave John the handkerchief, and told him not to untie it until the princess asked him to tell her thoughts.
There were so many people in the great hall of the palace, that they stood as close together as radishes bound together in a bundle. The council sat in the chairs with the soft pillows, and the old king had new clothes on ; the golden crown and sceptre had been polished, and everything looked quite stately. But the princess was very pale, and had a coal-black dress on, as if she were going to a funeral.
' Of what have I thought ? ' she asked John. And he immediately untied the handkerchief, and was himself quite frightened when he saw the ugly magician's head. All present shuddered, for it was terrible to look upon ; but the princess sat just like a statue, and could not utter