Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson

The Clever Wife

O NCE there was a famous castle-builder by the name of Gobborn Seer, and he had a son called Jack. In the course of time Jack grew to be a young man, and the old castle-builder began to think of teaching him his trade and leaving his business to him. "Jack is a good boy," said he; "but he is not quick with his brains. I must see what I can do for his education."

So one day he sent Jack to sell a sheepskin, and he said to him, "You must bring me back the skin and the value of it as well."

Jack went, but he could not find any one who would leave him the skin and give him its price, too, and he came home discouraged.

"Never mind," said his father, "you can try again to-morrow."

The next day Jack went out once more with the skin, but nobody wished to buy it on such terms.

"Well," said his father, when Jack returned home, "so you have not sold the skin yet? However, go out to-morrow and your luck may be better."

On the third day Jack set off as before and trudged hither and yon till nearly nightfall and could not find a customer who would pay him for the skin without having it. At last he came to a bridge across a little river, and when he was half way over the bridge he stopped and leaned on the parapet, thinking of his troubles. "I shall never be able to get rid of this horrid sheepskin if I live to be as old as Methuselah," said he. "I'm thinking I'd better run away from home and have quit of the job."

While he was talking to himself thus he looked over the side of the bridge and saw a girl washing clothes on the border of the stream. At the same time she looked up and saw him, and said, "If it may be no offence asking, what is it you feel so badly about?"

Jack held up the sheepskin that she might see it, and replied, "My father has given me this skin to sell, and I am to fetch it back and the price of it besides."

"Is that all?" laughed the girl. "Such a task ought not to trouble you in the least. Bring the skin down here."

Jack carried it down to her and she washed it in the stream and took the wool from it. Then she paid him its value and kept the wool, but gave him the skin to carry back.

When Jack reached home he told his father all that had happened, and his father said, "That was a clever woman you met at the bridge, and she would make you a good wife. Do you think you could find her again?"

"I think so," replied Jack.

"Well, then," his father said, "you go and see if she is at the same place to-morrow, and if she is there, bid her come home with you and take a cup of tea with us."

The young fellow did as his father suggested, and, sure enough, he found the girl at the waterside and told her how his old father had a wish to meet her, and would she be pleased to take tea with them?

The girl thanked him kindly and accepted the invitation. When she came the old man did not have to talk with her long to assure himself that she was uncommonly keen-witted, and then he asked her if she would marry his Jack.

"Yes," said she, and they were married.

Not long afterward Gobborn Seer told his son he must come with him and build the finest castle that ever was seen. The castle was to be for their king, who wished to outdo all the other kings in the world with his wonderful castle. So they set off for the place where the castle was to stand, and, as they walked along, the old man said to Jack,

"Can you not shorten the way for me?"

"It is many long miles we have to go," replied Jack, "and I would shorten them if I could, but I fear that is not possible."

"Ah, well!" said the old man, "if you cannot shorten the way, you are no good to me and had better go back home."

So poor Jack returned, and when he entered the house door his wife cried out, "Why! how is it that you are back so soon?"

He told her what his father had said and what he had replied.

"You stupid!" said his clever wife, "why didn't you tell a tale? That would have shortened the road! He would have forgotten the miles and the weariness. Now listen till I repeat to you a story, and then you catch up with your father and begin it at once. He will like hearing it, and by the time it is done you will have arrived where the castle is to be."

Jack heard the story, and then he ran as fast as he could until he overtook his father. The old man said never a word, but Jack began his story, and the road was shortened as his wife had said.

At the end of their journey they found many workmen assembled and waiting for them. The workmen had been sent there by the king to labor under the direction of the old castle-builder and his son, and without delay they were set to laying the foundations of the castle. For a year the builders worked, and Gobborn Seer and Jack and their helpers had erected such a castle that thousands came to admire it. Last of all the king came also.

"Is the castle done?" he asked.

"I have just a ceiling to finish in an upper hall," replied Gobborn Seer, "and then it will want nothing."

"Very well," said the king, "I shall return to-morrow and pay you for your labor."

But after the king had gone a friendly courtier sent for Gobborn and his son and told them he had learned that the king was so afraid they would now build some other king as fine a castle as his that he meant on the morrow to throw them into prison and keep them there for the rest of their lives.

"That sounds bad," said the old man to Jack, "but keep a good heart and we will come off all right yet."

The next day, when the king arrived, Gobborn told him he had been unable to complete the upper hall for lack of a certain tool. "I shall have to go home for that tool," said he.

"No, no!" exclaimed the king, "you can send just as well."

"Yes, I might send Jack, I suppose," the old man responded.

"Don't do that," the king said; "it will be better to have Jack here with you. Let one of the workmen do the errand."

"But the tool I want is a very delicate one," explained Gobborn, "and there's not a workman among them all to whom I would trust it."

"Well, then, what would you say to having my own son do the errand for you?" asked the king.

"Let him go, by all means," Gobborn replied, "and I will send a note by him to Jack's wife telling her where to find the tool."

Then he wrote this message: "I need my seequir. It is in the big tool chest in the attic. Don't let the prince who does this errand return without it."

"Jack," said the old castle-builder when the prince had gone, "if your wife is as clever as I think she is we can rest easy now. That message will give her a hint of what she is to do, and we can trust her to accomplish the rest."

As soon as Jack's wife read the letter the prince brought she saw that something was wrong. "There is no such tool as a seequir," she thought, "and that big chest in the attic is empty; and yet the note says for me not to let the prince return without the tool. Well, I won't."

Then she said to the prince, "I think I shall have to ask you to help me get that tool."

"I am at your service, madam," replied the prince with a polite bow.

So Jack's wife led the way to the attic and said, "Here is the big chest. I will lift the lid and you must reach down into the bottom of the chest after the tool."

"With pleasure," responded the prince, but no sooner had he leaned over with his head and arms in the chest than Jack's wife gave him a shove that tumbled him into the big box, heels and all, and then she slammed down the cover and locked it. Next she hunted up an auger and bored some holes in the lid to let in a little air and light to the prisoner.


"Now, Prince," said she, "I want to know what is the matter with my husband and his father."

The prince did not wish to say.

"You are going to tell me the whole story," ordered Jack's wife, "and if you don't start with it right off I shall bring up a kettle of hot water from the fire and pour some through these auger holes. That will loosen your tongue, I'll be bound."

So the prince told how Gobborn Seer and his son were going to be imprisoned.

"We'll have to put a stop to such doings," said Jack's wife. "Do you hear me, Prince?—you and I will have to put a stop to such doings."

"Yes," replied the prince, "I hear you."

He did not feel much like arguing, shut up in that box with those auger holes in the lid that only let in a little light and air, but which might admit a good deal of hot water.

"Very well," said Jack's wife, "I'm going to get some paper and a pen and ink, and I'll slip them in through these holes to you. Then you can write a letter to the king, your father, and let him know that you will never return alive unless the old castle-builder and his son are released."

She got the writing materials and poked them through the auger holes to the prince, and he wrote as she directed.

The letter frightened the king and he at once paid Gobborn for his work and let him and his son go to their home.

"Jack," said his father, as they were on the way, "your wife has helped us nobly. You ought now to reward her by building a castle for her far finer than the one we have made for the king;" and that was what Jack did, and they lived in it happily ever after.

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