The Donkey, the Table, and the Stick
T HERE was once a poor tailor who had a son named Jack; and they two were all there was to the family, unless we count the goat that gave them the milk they had to drink. They took very good care of the goat and Jack led her every day down to the riverside where the grass grew greenest, that she might have plenty to eat. In the evening Jack would go down by the river to fetch the goat home. "Well, goat," he would say, "have you had enough?"
And the goat would reply,
"Then come along," Jack would say, and he would tie a cord to the goat's neck and lead her home to her stall and fasten her up.
Afterward he would tell his father that he had brought the goat home, and his father would ask, "Has the goat had plenty to eat to-day?"
"Oh, yes!" Jack would answer, "she is so full she no more can pull."
But one evening the tailor was looking at the goat and he thought she seemed rather thin, and he said, "My dear goat, are you full?"
And the goat replied,
"What is this I hear?" cried the tailor, angrily, for he had a hasty temper. "My son has been deceiving me then."
He went to the house and found Jack. "You said the goat was full!" he shouted, "and she has been hungry all the time."
The tailor was so enraged that Jack was afraid he was going to beat him, and the lad hurried out of the house and down the road as fast as he could go. "The farther I get the better," said he, "for it will be a good while before I shall dare show my face at home again."
So the next day there was no Jack to take the goat to the feeding-place by the waterside, and the tailor had to lead her there himself. The food was plentiful and he said to her, "Now for once you can eat to your heart's content."
Then he went back to his work, and in the evening he came to get the goat, and he said to her, "Well, goat, are you full?"
And the goat answered,
"Come home then," said the tailor, and he led her to her stall and fastened her up. "You are full this time," he said as he was leaving her; but the goat said,
When the tailor heard that he knew the goat was not speaking the truth. "If she lies to-day," said he, "no doubt she lied yesterday, and I have made a mistake in not believing my son."
Then he laid hold of the goat and exclaimed, "Wait a minute, you ungrateful beast! I will give you a beating that you will long remember!"
He picked up a stout stick, dragged the goat from her stall and belabored her very heartily until she broke away from him and ran off. Week after week passed, and the tailor felt very sad. He was all alone and there was not a day that he did not wish his son would return home, but no one knew where Jack had gone.
Now what had happened to Jack was this—he ran and he ran until he ran right up against a little old woman who was walking along the road. "Whither so fast, my lad?" she asked.
"I beg your pardon," replied Jack. "I have left home to go out in the wide world and seek my fortune, and I was in a hurry."
"Why not apprentice yourself to my husband then?" said the old woman. "He is a miller and he needs a helper, and I can promise you that he will pay good wages."
Jack promptly agreed to accept the work offered, for he was very hungry and tired. So the old woman took Jack to the mill, and he served the miller for a year and a day. Then the miller told Jack he would pay him his wages. "You have behaved very well," said he, "and I am going to give you a donkey, but this donkey will draw no cart and carry no sack."
"What is the good of him then?" asked Jack.
"He spits out gold and silver," replied the miller. "You have but to pull one of his ears and he will begin at once to 'He-haw! he-haw!' and when he brays there will drop from his mouth silver six-pences and half-crowns and golden guineas."
"Very good," said the lad, and he thanked the miller and set forth, leading the donkey behind him. "I shall have no cares, now," said Jack. "My purse will be always full, and wherever I go I shall live on the best."
By and by he stopped at an inn, and the landlord was for taking the donkey from him to tie him up, but Jack said, "Oh, no, you need not trouble to do that. I will go to the stable with him myself, and then I shall know where to find him."
So the young apprentice took his donkey to the stable and afterward went into the inn and ordered as good a supper as the landlord could provide. The innkeeper stared, for he did not think that a man who took care of his own donkey could have much to spend, and he refused to serve him without being paid beforehand. "You need not worry," said Jack, "I can get plenty of money," and he went off to the stable, pulled one of the donkey's ears and got a pocket full of gold and silver.
The landlord wondered what Jack meant by saying he could get plenty of money. "I will follow the lad and see where he keeps his wealth," he said.
So the landlord slipped after Jack and saw everything he did through a crack in the stable door. "Dear me!" said he, "that is an easy way of getting ducats. A purse of money such as that donkey seems to be is no bad thing."
After Jack had eaten supper and gone to bed the landlord visited the stable again, and this time he led the gold donkey away and tied another in his place.
The next morning, early, the apprentice went to the stable and got the donkey, never doubting that he had the right one. "I will go back to my father, now," said he. "His anger must have cooled long ago, and when he knows I have this gold donkey he will receive me kindly."
By noon he came to his father's house, and his father was rejoiced to see him. "What trade have you taken up, my son?" said he, after the first greetings were over with.
"I am a miller, dear father," answered Jack.
"And what have you brought home with you to show for your year's work?" asked the father.
"I have brought home a donkey," said Jack, "that furnishes me with more money than I know what to do with. Why, with that donkey I can make you rich with no trouble at all!"
"That is very fine," said the tailor. "I am getting old, and it is irksome work snipping and sewing so unceasingly. I have long wanted to quit it. I suppose now I need not labor with my needle any more."
"No," replied Jack, "throw your needle away and call in the neighbors. I will make them rich, too."
So the tailor rushed out and went from house to house telling all the people of the village the good news. Soon they came flocking back with him and then Jack made them a speech as they stood round about the house, and after that he led his donkey into the midst of the crowd and began pulling the beast's ears. But, though Jack pulled and pulled and the donkey he-hawed and he-hawed, no silver or gold was forthcoming. The crowd laughed, and the tailor was so angry at Jack that the young man thought his father was going to thrash him and he took to his heels. He ran and ran till he came bang against a door and burst it open, and there he was in a carpenter's shop.
"You seem to be in great haste," said the carpenter.
"Yes," replied Jack, "but I will go no farther if you will give me work."
"All right," the carpenter responded, "be my apprentice and I will pay you well."
Jack agreed, and he served the carpenter for a year and a day. Then the master said, "I will now give you your wages. I will let you have ten shillings in money, which will very likely come handy, and you may take this little table. When you are hungry you have only to say, 'Table, be covered,' and at once it will have a clean cloth on it and dishes and lots to eat and drink."
The young apprentice thought he was set up for life, and he put the ten shillings in his pocket and took the table on his back and went merrily on his way. At length he came to the inn where he had stopped the year before. It was full of guests, but they bade Jack welcome, and asked him to sit down with them to eat, as otherwise he might not be able to get anything.
"You are very kind," said Jack, "yet I am not so badly off as you think, and instead of accepting your invitation I will ask you all to share with me a feast of my own providing."
Then they laughed, for they thought he was joking; but he brought in his little wooden table and said, "Table, be covered!"
Without delay the table was set with much better food than the landlord had been able to give his guests, and the odor of it greeted their noses very agreeably. "Fall to, my good friends," said Jack, and the guests, when they understood how things were, needed no second asking.
They went at the food most valiantly, and as often as a dish was emptied a full one took its place. All the while the landlord stood in a corner watching the proceedings with keen interest. "Such cooking as that would make my inn prosper," said he to himself.
When at last the party broke up, Jack left his wishing-table standing against the wall and went to bed. The landlord locked up and went to bed also, but he could not sleep for thinking of Jack's table. He remembered that he had in his attic an old table very like it, and finally he got up and fetched that table down and exchanged it for Jack's. Jack, none the wiser, rose the next day early, paid his reckoning, took the worthless table on his back and set off to see his father. He never once stopped by the way, not even for breakfast, and by nine o'clock he reached his father's house. The tailor was rejoiced to see his son, and asked him what he had been doing all the long year that he had been gone.
"Oh," said Jack, "I have learned to be a carpenter."
"That is a good trade," said the tailor, "and what have you brought back with you?"
"I have brought this little table," Jack responded. The tailor looked at it on all sides. "Rather a rubbishing old table, I call it," said he.
"But it is a very wonderful one," explained Jack. "I can ask that table for anything I please in the line of food and drink and it furnishes what I call for in no time. Let us invite the neighbors to come and we will all feast and enjoy ourselves."
So the tailor hastened to get the neighbors together, and then Jack put his table in their midst and said, "Table, be covered!"
But nothing came of his command, and the table remained just as empty as any other table that does not understand talking. Jack felt very foolish then, and the company joked him freely and his father began to upbraid him and grew more and more wrathful, and the young man was frightened and had no doubt his father was about to chastise him with his cane. So he got away as fast as his legs would carry him, and he ran and ran until he tumbled into a river. A man who happened to be near by pulled him out and said, "I suppose you are not looking for work or you would not be going so fast."
"No," said Jack, "I was not looking for anything, but I want work, nevertheless."
"Well," said the man, "I have a turning shop here on the river bank, and I will take you for an apprentice and pay you well."
So Jack worked for the turner a year and a day, and then his master, to reward him for his labor and his good conduct, handed him a few shillings in money, and after that gave him a sack and told him there was a stick inside of it.
"The sack may be of use to me," said Jack, "but what is the good of the stick?"
"I will tell you," said the master. "If any man does you harm, and you say, 'Out stick, and bang him!' the stick will jump out and will drub him soundly and will not stop until you say, 'Stick, into the sack!'"
The apprentice thanked his master and started on his travels and he was not long in seeking the inn where he had formerly fared so badly. He ate supper, and as he was sitting by the inn-room fire afterward the landlord asked, "What is it you have in that sack which you take such care of?"
"Well," replied Jack, "I don't propose to tell you, but I'll say this—I wouldn't exchange what I have in that bag for a thousand guineas."
That roused the landlord's curiosity more than ever. "What in the world can it be?" thought he. "Perhaps he has a lot of precious stones in his sack."
By and by Jack nodded off into a nap, and as no one else was present the landlord laid hold of the sack and was taking it away when Jack awoke.
"Out stick, and bang him!" he cried.
At once the stick flew from the bag and battered the innkeeper on the back, rapped his head and bruised his arms and legs until he fell groaning to the floor.
"Have mercy! have mercy!" begged the landlord.
"I will have mercy when you give me my table and donkey," said Jack.
"You can have anything you want," said the wretched man, "if only you will make this terrible goblin stick stop beating me."
"Very well," was Jack's response; and then he said, "Stick, into the sack!"
At once the stick left the man in peace and disappeared into the bag, and the landlord told Jack where he kept the table and the donkey, and promised he should have them whenever he chose to take them. Then he crept off to bed very lame and sore.
The next morning the landlord turned over to Jack the gold donkey and the wishing table, and the young man set out for his father's house. He arrived an hour before noon and the tailor was very glad to see him again and asked what he had learned while he had been away.
"My dear father," answered Jack, "I have been apprenticed to a turner."
"A very ingenious handicraft," said the father, "and what have you brought back with you?"
"A stick in a sack," Jack replied.
"What!" cried the old tailor, "a stick in a sack! Have you gone crazy?"
"But it is not a common stick," Jack explained. "When any man means harm to me I simply say, 'Out stick, and bang him!' and the stick jumps from the sack and gives the fellow such a pounding that he is soon glad to beg my pardon. You remember last year I told you about a wishing table that supplied me with food, and the year before I told you about a donkey that furnished me with money. Well, the table and donkey were stolen from me by a wicked innkeeper, but with this stick I have recovered them both. Now let the neighbors all be sent for and they shall have the finest feast they have ever had in their lives and I will fill their pockets with gold."
So the old tailor called the neighbors together and the son took his little table and said, "Table, be covered!" and at once it was set with a feast that kept the company jolly for a long time.
After that Jack brought the donkey and pulled his ears and the money jingled out of his mouth until they all had as much as they could carry away; and I cannot help thinking it is a great pity that you and I were not there.
The next day the tailor took his needles and thread, his yard measure and his goose and locked them up in a cupboard, and he lived ever after with his son in great ease and luxury.
But what became of the goat, the unlucky cause of Jack's being driven from home? I will tell you. She ran to the woods and into a fox's hole and hid herself. When the fox came home he caught sight of two great eyes staring at him out of the darkness, and the fox was so frightened that he scampered away as fast as he could go until he met a bear.
"Hold on, Brother Fox!" called the bear, "what is the trouble that you should be racing off like that?"
"Oh, dear!" answered the fox, "a grisly beast is sitting in my hole, and he stared at me with fiery eyes."
"I will soon drive him out," said the bear.
So he went to the fox's hole and looked in; but when he caught sight of the goat's gleaming eyes he too was terrified and fled in great haste until he met a bee.
"Stop, Brother Bear, stop!" called the bee. "What has happened? I never knew you to get over the ground so fast before, and you have a very depressed countenance. What has become of your high spirit?"
"You may well ask," the bear replied. "In the fox's hole there sits a grisly beast with fiery eyes and neither the fox nor I can drive him out."
"I am a poor feeble little creature," said the bee, "and I know you despise me, Bear, but I think I can help you."
So the bee flew into the fox's hole and stung the goat on the head. Then the goat jumped and cried "Baa! Baa!" and ran out like mad into the world; and whither she went no one knows to this hour.