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
'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
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.