Once upon a time there lived an old King, who fell very sick, and thought he was lying upon his death-bed; so he said, “Let faithful John come to me.” This faithful John was his affectionate servant, and was so called because he had been true to him all his lifetime. As soon as John came to the bedside, the King said, “My faithful John, I feel that my end approaches, and I have no other care than about my son, who is still so young that he cannot always guide himself aright. If you do not promise to instruct him in everything he ought to know, and to be his guardian, I cannot close my eyes in peace.” Then John answered, “I will never leave him; I will always serve him truly, even if it costs me my life.” So the old King was comforted, and said, “Now I can die in peace. After my death you must show him all the chambers, halls, and vaults in the castle, and all the treasures which are in them; but the last room in the long corridor you must not show him, for in it hangs the portrait of the daughter of the King of the Golden Palace; if he sees her picture, he will conceive a great love for her, and will fall down in a swoon, and on her account undergo great perils, therefore you must keep him away.” The faithful John pressed his master’s hand again in token of assent, and soon after the King laid his head upon the pillow and expired.
After the old King had been borne to his grave, the faithful John related to the young King all that his father had said upon his death-bed, and declared, “All this I will certainly fulfil; I will be as true to you as I was to him, if it costs me my life.” When the time of mourning was passed, John said to the young King, “It is now time for you to see your inheritance; I will show you your paternal castle.” So he led the King all over it, upstairs and downstairs, and showed him all the riches, and all the splendid chambers; only one room he did not open,
containing the perilous portrait, which was so placed that one saw it directly the door was opened, and, moreover, it was so beautifully painted that one thought it breathed and moved; nothing in all the world could be more lifelike or more beautiful. The young King remarked, however, that the faithful John always passed by one door, so he asked, “Why do you not open that one?” “There is something in it,” he replied, “which will frighten you.”
But the King said, “I have seen all the rest of the castle, and I will know what is in there,” and he went and tried to open the door by force. The faithful John pulled him back, and said, “I promised your father before he died that you should not see the contents of that room; it would bring great misfortunes both upon you and me.”
“Oh, no,” replied the young King, “if I do not go in it will be my certain ruin; I should have no peace night nor day until I had seen it with my own eyes. Now I will not stir from the place till you unlock the door.”
Then the faithful John saw that it was of no use talking; so, with a heavy heart and many sighs, he picked the key out of the great bunch. When he had opened the door, he went in first, and thought he would cover up the picture, that the King should not see it; but it was of no use, for the King stepped upon tiptoes and looked over his shoulder; and as soon as he saw the portrait of the maiden, which was so beautiful and glittered with precious stones, he fell down on the ground insensible. The faithful John lifted him up and carried him to his bed, and thought with great concern, “Mercy on us! the misfortune has happened; what will come of it?