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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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JACK THE GIANT-KILLER

[89]

I N the reign of King Arthur, and in the country of Cornwall, near to the Land's end of England, there lived a wealthy farmer, who had an only son named Jack. He was brisk, and of a ready wit, so that whatever he could not perform by force and strength he accomplished by ingenious wit and policy. Never was any person heard of that could worst him, and he very often baffled even the learned by his sharp and ready inventions.

In those days the mount of Cornwall as kept by a huge and monstrous giant, eighteen feet in height, about three yards in compass, and of a fierce and grim countenance, the terror of all the neighboring towns and villages. He inhabited a cave in the middle of the Mount and he was such a selfish monster that he would not suffer any one to live near him. He fed on other men's cattle, which often became his prey, for whensoever he wanted food he would wade over to the main-land, where he would furnish himself with whatever came in his way. The people, at his coming, forsook their homes. Then would he seize on their cattle, making nothing of carrying half-a-dozen oxen on his back at a time; and as for their sheep and hogs, he would tie them round his waist like a bunch of bandoleers. This course he had followed for many years, so that a great part of the country was made poor by his robberies.

This was the state of affairs when Jack, happening one day to be present at the town-hall, where the governors were consulting about the giant, had the curiosity to ask what reward would be given to the person who should destroy him. The giant's treasure was declared as the recompense, and Jack at once undertook the task.

In order to effect his purpose, he furnished himself with a horn, shovel, and pickaxe, and went over to the Mount in the beginning of a dark winter's evening, when he fell to work, and before morning had dug a pit twenty-two feet deep, and nearly as broad, covering it over with long sticks and straw. Then strewing a little mould upon it appeared like plain ground. This done, Jack placed himself on the side of the pit which was farthest from the giant's lodging, and, just at break of day, he put the horn to his mouth and blew with all his might. Although Jack was a little fellow, he managed to make noise enough to awake the giant, who rushed roaring from his cave, crying out, "You incorrigible villain! are you come here to disturb my rest? you shall pay dearly for this. I will take you whole and broil you for my breakfast." He had no sooner uttered this cruel threat than he tumbled into the pit, and his heavy fall made the foundation of the Mount shake.

"O Giant!" said Jack, "where are you now? Oh, faith, you are gotten now into Lob's Pound, where I will surely plague you for your threatening words. What do you think now of broiling me for your breakfast? Will no other diet serve you but poor Jack?"

Thus did little Jack tantalize the big giant, as a cat does a mouse, when she knows it cannot escape, and when he had tired of that amusement he gave him a heavy blow with his pickaxe on the very crown of his head, which tumbled him down and killed him on the spot. When Jack saw he was dead, he filled up the pit with earth, and went to search the cave, where he found much treasure.

Now when the magistrates who employed Jack heard that the work was done, they sent for him, declaring that he should henceforth be termed Jack the Giant-killer, and gave him a sword and embroidered belt, on the latter of which these words were inscribed in letters of gold:—

[90]

"Here's the right valiant Cornish man

Who slew the giant Cormoran."

The news of Jack's victory soon spread over all the West of England, so that another giant, named Blunderbore, hearing of it, vowed to be revenged on the little hero, if ever it was his fortune to light on him. This giant was lord of an enchanted castle, situated in the midst of a lonesome wood. Now Jack, about four months after his last exploit, walking near this castle, in his journey towards Wales, being weary, seated himself near a pleasant fountain in the wood, and presently fell asleep. The giant, coming there for water, found him, and by the lines upon his belt knew him to be Jack; so, without any words, he took him upon his shoulder and carried him towards his enchanted castle.

Now, as they passed through a thicket, the rustling of the boughs awakened Jack, who was uncomfortably surprised to find himself in the clutches of the giant. His terror was not lessened when, on entering the castle, he saw the courtyard strewed with human bones, the giant telling him his own bones would erelong be added to the pile. This said, the giant locked poor Jack in an upper chamber, leaving him there while he went to fetch another giant, living in the same wood, to keep him company in the destruction of their enemy. While he was gone, dreadful shrieks and lamentations affrighted Jack, especially a voice which continually cried:—

"Do what you can to get away,

Or you'll become the giant's prey;

He's gone to fetch his brother, who

Will likewise kill and torture you."

This dreadful warning almost distracted poor Jack, who, going to the window and opening a casement, saw afar off the two giants coming towards the castle.

"Now," quoth Jack to himself, "my death or my deliverance is at hand."

Now the giants of those days, although very powerful, were really very stupid fellows, and readily conquered by stratagem, even of the humblest kind. There happened to be in the room where Jack was confined two strong cords, at the ends of which he made strong nooses, and as the giants were unlocking the iron gate of the castle he threw the ropes over each of their heads, and then, before the giants knew what he was about, drew the other ends across a beam, and, pulling with all his might, throttled them. Then sliding down the rope, he came to the heads of the giants, and as they could not defend themselves, he easily dispatched them with his sword. Jack next took a great bunch of keys from the pocket of Blunderbore, and went into the castle again. He made a strict search through all the rooms and in them he found three ladies tied up by the hair of their heads and almost starved to death. It was they who had warned him. He set them free, gave them the keys to the castle, and proceeded on his journey to Wales.

Jack would take no money, and having but little of his own left, was obliged to make the best of his way by traveling as hard as he could. At length, losing his road, he was belated, and could not get to any place of entertainment until, coming to a lonesome valley, he found a large house, and by reason of his present necessity took courage to knock at the gate. But what was his astonishment when there came forth a monstrous giant, with two heads! Yet he did not appear as fiery as the others were, for he was a Welsh giant, and what he did was by private and secret malice under the false show of friendship.

Jack, having unfolded his condition to the giant, was shown into a bedroom, where in the dead of night he heard the giant in another room saying to himself these words:—

"Though here you lodge with me this night,

You shall not see the morning light;

My club shall dash your brains out quite."

"Say'st thou so?" quoth Jack; "that is like one of your Welsh tricks, yet I hope to be cunning enough for you." He immediately got out of bed, and, feeling about in the dark, found a thick billet of wood, which he laid in the bed in his stead, and hid himself in a dark corner of the room. Shortly after in came the Welsh giant, [91] Who thoroughly pummeled the billet with his club, thinking, naturally enough, he had broken every one in Jack's skin. The next morning, however, to the inexpressible surprise of the giant Jack came down-stairs as if nothing had happened, and gave him thanks for his night's lodging.

"How have you rested?" quoth the giant; "did you not feel anything in the night?"

"No," said Jack; "nothing but a rat that gave me two or three flaps with her tail."

Concealing his amazement as well as he could, the giant took Jack in to breakfast, and placed upon the table for himself and his guest two bowls, each containing four gallons of hasty-pudding.

Jack was unwilling that the giant should suppose him unable to eat it all, and accordingly placed a large leather bag under his loose coat, in such a position that, without being perceived, he could put in it all the pudding which he could not eat.

Breakfast over, Jack excited the giant's curiosity by offering to show him an extraordinary sleight of hand; so, taking a knife, he ripped the leather bag and out came all the hasty-pudding upon the ground.

The giant, unwilling to be beaten, cried out in true Welsh, "Odds splutters! Hur can do that trick hurself!" He took the knife, and ripping himself open, immediately fell down dead.

Thus Jack outwitted the Welsh giant and proceeded on his journey.

A few days after, he met with King Arthur's only son, who had got his father's leave to travel into Wales to deliver a beautiful lady from the power of a wicked magician, by whom she was held in enchantment. When Jack found that the young prince had no servants with him he begged leave to attend him; and the prince at once agreed to this, and gave Jack many thanks for this kindness.

King Arthur's son was a handsome, polite and brave knight, and so good-natured that he gave money to everybody he met. At length he gave his last penny to an old woman, and then, turning to Jack, said, "How shall we be able to get food for ourselves the rest of our journey?"

"Leave that to me," said Jack, "I warrant you we shall never want."

Night now came on, and the prince began to grow uneasy at thinking where they should lodge.

"Master," said Jack, "we shall do well enough, for I have an uncle who lives within two miles of this place; he is a huge and monstrous giant, with three heads; he will fight five hundred men in armor, and make them flee before him."

"Alas!" quoth the prince, "what shall we do then? He'll certain chop us up at one mouthful; nay, we are scarce enough to fill his hollow tooth."

"It is no matter for that," quoth Jack; "I myself will go before and prepare the way for you. Tarry here and wait till I return."

Jack now rode off at full speed, and coming to the gate of the castle he knocked so loud that the hills resounded like thunder. The giant, terribly vexed, roared out, "Who's there?"

He was answered, "No one but your poor Cousin Jack."

Quoth he, "What news, cousin Jack?"

"Dear uncle," said Jack, "I have heavy news."

"Pooh!" said the giant, "what heavy news can come to me? I am a giant with three heads, and besides thou knowest I can fight five hundred men in armor, and make them fly like chaff before the wind."

"Oh, but," quoth Jack, "here's the prince coming with a thousand men in armor to kill you, and destroy all that you have."

"O Cousin Jack," said the giant, "this is heavy news indeed! But I have a large cellar underground, where I will immediately run and hide myself, and you shall lock, bolt, and bar me in, and keep the keys till the prince is gone."

Now Jack barred the giant fast, and fetching his master to the castle, they feasted, and made themselves merry whilst the poor giant lay trembling in the vault. Early in the morning Jack gave the king's son gold and silver out of the giant's treas- [92] ure, and sent him three miles forward on his journey. Then Jack returned to let his uncle out of the hole, who asked what he should give him for saving his castle.

"Why," quoth Jack, "I desire nothing but the old coat and cap, together with the old rusty sword and shoes which you keep at your bed's head."

Quoth the giant, "Thou shalt have them, and pray keep them for my sake, for they are things of excellent use. The coat will keep you invisible, the cap will give you knowledge, the sword will cut through anything, and the shoes are of extraordinary swiftness; so take them with all my heart."

Jack was delighted with these useful presents, and coming up with the king's son they soon arrived at the dwelling of the beautiful lady who was under the power of a wicked magician. She, finding the prince to be a suitor, made a noble feast for him. When it was ended she rose, and, wiping her mouth with a fine handkerchief, said, "My lord, you must show me this handkerchief to-morrow morning, or lose your head." She then put the handkerchief in her bosom and left the room.

The prince went to bed in great sorrow, but Jack put on his cap of knowledge, which told him that the lady was forced to meet the wicked magician every night in the middle of the forest. Jack immediately put on his coat of darkness and his shoes of swiftness, and was there before her.

When the lady came she gave the handkerchief to the magician, who laid it upon a shelf, whence Jack took it, and brought it to his master, who showed it to the lady the next day, and so saved his life. The next evening at supper she saluted the prince, telling him he must show her the lips to-morrow morning that she kissed last this night or lose his head. He replied,—

"If you kiss none but mine, I will."

"That is neither here nor there," said she, "if you do not, death is your portion!" At midnight she went as before, and was angry with the magician for letting the handkerchief go.

"But now," quoth she, "I will be too hard for the prince, for I kiss thee, and he is to show me thy lips." She did so, and Jack, who was standing by, cut off the magician's head and brought it under his invisible coat to his master who showed it to the lady, which broke the enchantment, and restored her to her former goodness. She was married to the prince on the next day, and they soon after went back with joy to the court of King Arthur, where Jack, for his good services was created one of the Knights of the Round Table.

As Jack had been so lucky in all his adventures he resolved not to be idle for the future, but still to do what services he could for the honor of the king and the nation. He therefore humbly besought the king to furnish him with a horse and money, that he might travel in search of new adventures. "For," said he to the king, "there are many giants yet living in the remote part of Wales, to the unspeakable damage of your majesty's subjects; wherefore, may it please you to favor me. I do not doubt but speedily to rid your realm of these giants and monsters in human shape."

Now, when the king heard this offer, and begun to think of the cruel deeds of these bloodthirsty giants and savage monsters, he gave Jack everything proper for such a journey. After this, Jack took leave of the king, the prince, and all the knights, and set off, taking with him his magical cap, sword, shoes, and coat, the better to perform the dangerous enterprises which lay before him. [93] He went along over hills and mountains; and on the third day he came to a wide forest, when, on a sudden, he heard dreadful shrieks and cries; and, forcing his way through the trees, saw a monstrous giant dragging along, by the hair of their heads, a worthy knight and his beautiful lady, with as much ease as if they had been a pair of gloves. Their tears and cries melted the heart of honest Jack; he alighted from his hose, and, tying him to an oak-tree, put on his invisible coat, under which he carried his sword of sharpness.


[Illustration]

When he came up to the giant he made several strokes at him, and succeeded, after considerable trouble, in dispatching the monster, whose dying groans were so terrible that they made the whole wood ring again. The courteous knight and his fair lady were overpowered with gratitude, and, after returning Jack their best thanks, invited him to their house, there to recruit his strength and to receive a further reward. Jack, however, declared that he would not rest until he had found out the giant's abode.

The knight, on hearing this, grew very sorrowful, and replied: "Noble stranger, it is too much to run a second hazard; this monster lived in a den under yonder mountain with a brother of his, more fierce and cruel than himself; therefore, if you should go thither and perish in the attempt, it would be a heart-breaking thing to me and my lady; so let me persuade you to go back with us, and desist from any farther pursuit."

"Nay," answered Jack; "if there be another, even if there were twenty, I would shed the last drop of blood in my body before one of them should escape. When I have finished this task, I will come and pay my respects to you."

So when they had told him where to find them again, he got on his horse and went after the dead giant's brother.

Jack had not ridden a mile and a half before he came in sight of the mouth of the cave; and, near the entrance of it, he saw the other giant, sitting on a huge block of timber, with a knotted iron club by his side, waiting for his brother's return with his prey. His eyes looked like flames of fire, his face was grim and ugly, and his cheeks were like two flitches of bacon; the bristles of his beard seemed to be thick rods of iron wire; and his long locks of hair hung down upon his broad shoulders like curling snakes or hissing adders. Jack alighted from his horse, and putting on the invisible coat drew near the giant and said softly, "Oh! are you there? It will not be long ere I shall take you fast by the beard.

The giant all this while could not see him, by reason of his invisible coat; so Jack came quite close to him, and struck a blow at his head with his sword; but missing his aim, he cut off the nose of the giant instead. The giant rolled his glaring eyes round on every side, but could not see who had given him the blow; so he took up his iron club and began to lay about him so desperately, that even Jack was frightened, but soon dispatched him. After this Jack cut off the giant's head, and sent it, with the head of his brother, to King Arthur, by a wagoner whom he had hired for that purpose, who gave an account of all Jack's wonderful proceedings.

The redoubtable Jack next proceeded to search the giants' cave for their treasure. He passed through many turnings and windings, which led him to a great room paved with freestone; at the other end of this was a boiling caldron, and on the right hand stood a large table, at which the giants usually dined. He then came to a window secured with iron bars, through which he saw many wretched captives, who cried out, when they saw Jack; "Alas! Alas! Young man, are you come to be one among us poor wretches in this horrid den?"

"Alas!" said one poor old man, "I will tell you, sir. We are persons that have been taken by the giants who hold this cave, and are kept till they choose to have a feast; then the fattest of us is to be killed, and cooked to please their taste. It is not long since they took three for the same purpose."

[94] "Well," said Jack, "I have given them such a dinner that it will be long enough before they have any more."

The captives were amazed at his words.

"You may believe me," said Jack, "for I have killed them both with the edge of this sword, and have sent their heads in a wagon to the court of King Arthur, as marks of my glorious victory."

To show that what he said was true, he unlocked the gate and set the captives all free. Then he led them to the great room, placed them round the table, and put before them two quarters of beef, with bread and wine, upon which they feasted their fill. When supper was over, they searched the giants' coffers, and Jack divided among them all the treasures. The next morning the set off to their homes, and Jack to the house of the knight, whom he had left with his lady not long before.

It was about sunrise when Jack mounted his horse to go on his way, and he came about noon to the knight's house, where he was received with the greatest joy by the thankful knight and his lady, who, in honor of Jack, gave a grand feast, which lasted many days, all the nobles and gentry in the neighborhood being invited to it. When the company were assembled the knight related Jack's adventures, and gave him a fine ring, on which was engraved the picture of the giant dragging the distressed knight and his lady, with his motto round it:—

"We were in sad distress you see,

Under the giant's fierce command;

But gained over lives and liberty

By valiant Jack's victorious hand."

In the midst of the festivities arrived a messenger with the dismal news that Thunderdell, a savage giant with two heads, having heard of the death of his two kinsmen, was come from the north to take his revenge on Jack; and was already within a mile of the house, the country people flying before him in all directions. At this news the very boldest of the guests trembled; but Jack drew his sword, and said, "Let him come; I have a tooth-pick for him. Pray, ladies and gentlemen, walk into the garden, and you shall soon behold the giants defeat and death."

To this they all agreed, and heartily wished him success in his dangerous attempt.

The knight's house or castle stood on an island surrounded by a moat, thirty feet deep and twenty feet wide, passable by a drawbridge. Jack set men to work to cut the bridge on both sides, almost to the middle, and then dressed himself in his invisible coat, and went against the giant with his well-tried sword. As he came close to him, though the giant could not see him for his invisible coat, yet he found some danger was near which made him cry out:—

"Fi, fee, fo, fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman;

Be he alive, or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make me bread."

"Say you so?" said Jack; "then you are a monstrous miller, indeed!"

"Art thou," cried the giant, "the villain who killed my kinsmen? Then I will tear thee with my teeth, and grind thy bones to powder."

"You must catch me first," said Jack; so putting aside his invisible coat that the giant might see him, and putting on his wonderful shoes he began to run, the giant following him like a walking castle, till the earth shook at every step.

Jack led him round and round the walls of the house, that the company might see the monster, but at last, to end the matter, he ran over the drawbridge, the giant going after him with his club; but when he came to the middle, where the bridge had been cut on both sides, the giant's great weight made it break, and he tumbled into the water, where he rolled about like a vast whale. Jack now stood by the side of the moat and laughed at him, saying, "I think you told me you would grind my bones to powder; when will you begin?"

After he had teased him sufficiently, Jack got a cart-rope, cast it over the giant, and by the help of a team of horses dragged him out of the moat, cut off his heads; and sent them both to King Arthur.


[Illustration]

[95] After staying with the knight for some time Jack grew weary of such an idle life, and set out again in search of another giant, the last whose head he was to chop off. He went over hills and dales without meeting any, till he came to the foot of a very high mountain. Here he knocked at the door of a small and lonely house, and an old man, with a head as white as snow, let him in.

"Good father," said Jack, "can you lodge a traveler who has lost his way?"

"Yes," said the hermit, "I can, if you will accept such fare as my poor house affords."

Jack entered, and the old man set before him some bread and fruit for his supper. When Jack had eaten as much as he chose the old man, who knew more than Jack suspected, said: "My son, I know you are a famous conqueror of giants; now, at the top of this mountain is an enchanted castle, kept by a giant named Galligantus, who, by the help of a conjuror, gets many knights into his castle, where he changes them into sundry shapes and forms. Above all, I lament a duke's daughter whom they took from her father's garden, and brought hither through the air in a chariot drawn by fiery dragons, and turned her into the shape of a deer. Many knights have tried to break enchantment and deliver her, yet none have been able to do it, by reason of two fiery griffins who guard the gate of the castle, and destroy all who come nigh; but, as you, my son, have an invisible coat, you may pass by them without being seen; and on the gates of the castle you will find engraven in large characters by what means the enchantment may be broken."

In the morning as soon as it was daylight he put on his invisible coat, and got ready for the enterprise. When he had reached the top of the mountain he saw the fiery griffins; but being invisible he passed them without the slightest danger. When he had reached the castle-gate he found a golden trumpet, under which were written in large characters these lines:—

"Whoever doeth this trumpet blow

Shall soon the giant overthrow;

And break the black enchantment straight,

So all shall be in happy state."

As soon as Jack had read this he seized the trumpet, and blew a shrill blast, which made the gates fly open, and the very castle itself tremble. The giant and the conjuror now knew that their wicked course was at an end, and they stood biting their thumbs and shaking with fear. Jack, standing at the giant's elbow, with his wonderful sword cut off his head, and the conjuror, seeing this, mounted into the air and was carried away in a whirlwind and never heard of more. All the knights and beautiful ladies, who had been changed into birds and beasts, returned to their proper shapes. The castle vanished away like smoke, and the head of the giant Galligantus was sent to King Arthur. The knights and ladies rested that night at the old man's hermitage, and next day they set out for the court. Jack then went up to the king, and gave his majesty an account of all his fierce battles. Jack's fame had spread through the whole country; and at the king's desire the duke gave him his daughter in marriage, to the joy of all the kingdom. After this, the king gave him a large estate, on which he and his lady lived the rest of their days in joy and content.


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