The Ballroom: A Tale of Saint John's and Saint Ben's
The arboretum at Saint John's University has always been described as sacred and majestic. Hundreds of thousands of trees lining the area, all representing a purpose of peace and prosperity. Trees hug a narrowly laid out path, heavily trafficked by the cross country teams of Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict. One area in particular sticks out, while on a run the road bends around a turn and one enters "The Ballroom". The Ballroom is an array of trees dancing on a dance floor. Pairs of trees sway left and right as if dancing partners. However, one pair in particular sticks out; this pair is not simply swaying to the music but having a great time. Not caring what anyone else around them is saying they dance ridiculously, with little style unlike the classy ones around them. The two trees dance as individuals not concerned with the thoughts of others or how they are perceived, but just having fun. This is the story of the two that went against societal norms.
The day is young; sun is hot, scouring across the barren land of central Minnesota. Johnnie was working in the fields doing his usual routine. Tending to this year's unusually large harvest, looking after the livestock, making sure all chores are completed. At high noon, Johnnie took his usual lunch break, eating a simple meal beside the most traveled road around. Not only for the calming sight, but because this was the route the wealthy land owners traveled on, every day at noon. Along with this family came a beautiful daughter Bennie. Each and every day the two locked eyes while Bennie gave a little giggle and smile, one that saw sparkles in their eyes. Every day Johnnie had to return to work, knowing full well he could never be with Bennie, for her parents would never allow such an arrangement, as they had already arranged Bennie to marry the notorious Tommie, a family of great wealth and influence in the region. Tommie had strong affection for Bennie and wished for nothing else but to make her his wife. Bennie, however strongly protested the marriage, wanting a caring husband, one that would love her and is not arrogant. In order to keep the status quo her parents continued with the marriage making sure it was lined up and ready to go.
Bennie would have nothing of it. For every time she looked into Johnnie's eyes she felt a strong passion, one that was not be so easily defeated. One day while her family passed by an exhausted Johnnie, Bennie threw the young man a loaf of bread, telling her parents it was solely for sympathy of the tired, hardworking man. Johnnie could not believe his eyes, and felt rather insulted by the gesture. However, upon grabbing the loaf of bread it turned into a scroll. One with strict directions. "If the sparkle in your eyes is real, meet me at the lake when the moon shines bright, on the third night of this month". Johnnie, extremely perplexed at this gesture ran home to prepare for the next night, which was the third of the month. Barely able to contain his excitement he told his family about his new found love. His father, Ole would not have any of it. "Why, you are a simple farmer, incapable of sustaining such a girl as Bennie; you will finish your share of the field, then if you wish to sneak off you may do so". Johnnie knew this was not impossible; he had too many acres to do over the course of a month, let alone in one day.
Dreading the long day ahead Johnnie approached the field feeling extremely saddened and disappointed that he would miss his one chance to be with Bennie, the girl who has been running around in his dreams. As Johnnie began plowing and tending the crops, a miracle happened. He found himself making extremely good progress, completing the work that takes at least 10 people, all by him. The farm animals came to Johnnie's aid, knowing the importance that Bennie has to him, and a marriage to Tommie would be absolutely detrimental. As the sun set Johnnie successfully completed his work. His father was amazed at the miracle before him "this field should have taken two weeks; you have accomplished this in a mere 18 hours". Johnnie replied "I had help, I cannot describe what happened, but I had help." Amazed at this miracle Ole saw that something majestic was in the working, he lent Johnnie their most prized horse, Abbey. Johnnie then thanked his father and rode off into the night taking the route to the lake by the time the full moon was in the air. Johnnie arrived at the lake, went down to the bottom of the hill where he found a stump, and sat down staring across the crystal clear lake.
"Johnnie!" Bennie exclaimed from behind him. Johnnie turned around to see the beauty of Bennie standing by his side. The two instantly clicked and spent the night, talking and laughing. There was a strong bond here, one that could never be broken. Bennie knew she was in love and Johnnie knew he could never let her go, of all people. Like all good things, the night ended and Bennie had to go "Meet me here in 4 days" said Bennie. Johnnie, who could not believe his ears agreed. "However, you said this could never work and your parents would never have you with the likes of me." Astonished, Bennie weeped saying she will do everything in her power. Feeling optimistic Johnnie returned home, knowing deep in his heart they would be together.
Bennie returned home only to find that Tommie had followed her on her escapade and informed her parents. Absolutely furious, her father locked Bennie away in her room until the wedding still four days away. Struggling in her room, Bennie could not believe she had been followed and all that she has worked for was gone. She knew that if she married Tommie she would never again be reunited with Johnnie, the one who cares deeply for Bennie, is respectful, smart, and driven. Seeking an escape Bennie looked to the window and saw a small dove sitting outside the window. Bennie scribbled on a small scroll and asked the dove to deliver this to Johnnie who would know what to do.
The dove responded immediately and flew off to alert Johnnie of the current situation. Johnnie opened the scroll and saw a very specific list of directions and what was needed to be done if he ever wished to see his dearly beloved Bennie ever again. Johnnie knew he had a long and difficult road ahead of him but he was prepared for the worst and was willing to take any risks in order to save Bennie. As Johnnie began to devise a plan on how to get Bennie back he heard a whistle from outside his little hut. Johnnie followed what he had imagined to be a deer to the outside. Johnnies followed the tracks for a few miles and was led to an open field. There he met the deer, who, to his disbelief spoke to Johnnie. Johnnie explained his situation to which the deer was very familiar. When asked how much he loves Bennie, Johnnie replied "with all my heart, I would die for her and make the necessary sacrifice." The deer then knew he could trust Johnnie, "Then you shall be with her." Replied the deer. But Johnnie was confused, she was set to marry Tommie and was imprisoned in her house, even if he could rescue her they would forever be hunted by Tommie and her father and Johnnie would most certainly face severe punishment or even death. The deer explained the plan and how he could forever be with Bennie, Johnnie understood the sacrifices that were to be made and he was willing to make sure everything went according to plan.
That night Johnnie sent a dove to Bennie explaining the plan and what was necessary, Bennie read the scroll and gasped at the sacrifices but she knew this was the only way she could forever be with Johnnie. She accepted them and knew anything was better than what awaited her with the self-involved and selfish Tommie, who would not treat her right. Bennie could not bear to think she would never again be with Johnnie.
Johnnie rode with fierce intensity as the sky clouded above him and thunder and lightning rolled through the landscape. Pouring rain drenched Johnnie as his plan started to take shape. The horse was to approach the house with a decoy to distract Tommie and the guards attention. Johnnie then snuck around the back, having to take out two of Tommie's guards. Upon hearing the commotion of the decoy, Bennie snuck out the back and found Johnnie waiting there ready to take her away. The two rode off into the night, but not without catching the attention of Tommie. Tommie ferociously rode against them with two of his guards. With nature and luck on his side the pouring rain caused two of the horsemen to slip and fall out of the chase until it was only Tommie riding against Johnnie and Bennie. Tommie reached for his sword and Johnnie immediately found himself wielding a mighty sword, out of thin air. The two had to fight while riding to the lake. Again, nature favored Johnnie and a lightning strike knocked Tommie off his horse. Johnnie and Bennie quietly rode off into the night, down to lake where they once met.
However, they were surprised by what they saw when they reached the lake. Tommie was waiting, along with a mighty army and the father of Bennie. Immediately surrounded there was little the couple could do in this life. Johnnie and Bennie now knew the prophecy had to be held true, if they wished to spend eternity together. They grabbed each other's hand and ran into the lake. Following strict directions from the deer the two went down, followed immediately by Tommie's guards. Then a bright light shone through the sky, the sun shot up and emitted a beautiful light, in a second they were all gone. The lake was emptied and a forest sprang up. Bennie and Johnnie were found dancing with one another, at a wedding that should have been theirs. The forest surrounding them watched on with keen eyes as the two danced the night away, not caring about how they danced, what they looked like, or how they acted.
For years the father, and Tommie sought to seek out the beautiful Bennie and Johnnie but no one was able to find them. The news of the disappearance went widespread, with all the villages looking to find the young couple. Bennie and Johnnie sat happily living together in the arboretum holding hands and dancing. Now, when you go into the arboretum at Saint John's University you can see the two of them, Bennie and Johnnie living happily together in peace and harmony. Tommie ashamed, of his loss traveled to a new location, out of central Minnesota to hide in shame for the one he lost, to, of all people, Johnnie. Through the years following the legend has lived on.
Johnnies and Bennies are always falling in love with one another, opening doors, and giving up seats at the two colleges named after the star crossed lovers. Every year an event of momentous occasion occurs when Johnnies battle the Tommies in games of athleticism and intelligence.
Finally, every run through the arboretum is peaceful and quiet as the runners thump along the clean trails, turning the corner into the ballroom and are always reminded of the struggle that existed in order for Johnnie to happily be with, and marry Bennie forever and always.