O NCE there was a poor woman who had a son named Jack, and they lived on the edge of a wood. Times were hard, and they did not always have enough to eat, and at last the woman said to her son, "Jack, you must now go out into the wide world; for if you stay here we shall both starve. We have only half a loaf of bread left, but you shall take that with you, and I wish it were larger. The world lies on the other side of the forest. Find your way to it and gain your living honestly."
So she bade Jack good-by, and he started. On he went, farther and farther into the forest, and he walked all day and saw no farm or dwelling or path. Then he knew that he was lost, but he kept on as long as daylight lasted, and when it became dark he lay down and slept. During the day he had eaten nearly all of his bread, and the next morning he ate what was left and wandered on again through the trackless woods until evening. Night came, and he was looking for a spot where he could lie down and sleep when he saw lights before him. So he went toward the lights and presently came to a large palace. He knocked at the entrance and a beautiful young woman opened the door.
"My good lady," said Jack, "I have been lost for two days in this great forest, and I beg that you will give me something to eat."
"No, no," said she, "go away as quickly as you can. The owner of this palace is a giant. He will soon come home and he will surely eat you."
"Can't you hide me?" asked Jack. "Unless I have food and shelter I shall die."
"I could not hide you so but that he would find you," said she. "Oh, do go away at once!"
"Perhaps he would not eat me," argued Jack. "He has not eaten you."
"That is because he wants me to take care of his house and cook his food," said she; "but I do not know how soon he will change his mind. Please, sir, hurry away, or it will be too late."
However, Jack insisted that rather than starve in the forest he would risk death at the hands of the giant. So finally she yielded and allowed him to enter, and when she had given him something to eat hid him in a cupboard beside the fireplace.
After a while the giant came banging at the door, shouting, "Featherflight, let me in, let me in!"
She unlocked the door, and as he came tramping into the room he said, "Where's that man? I began to smell him ten miles away as I was coming through the woods."
"Don't you think you were mistaken?" asked Featherflight.
But the giant did not reply. He sniffed the air for a moment and then went to the cupboard beside the fireplace and pulled Jack out.
"Did you mean him?" said Featherflight. "Why, that is nothing but a poor, thin, little fellow who would scarcely make you half a mouthful, and his bones would stick in your throat. Would n't it be better to keep him and make him work for you? But your supper is ready now, and you can think about what to do with him afterward."
So she set before the giant a vast quantity of meat and drink, and he ate so much and gobbled it down so fast that the sight made Jack's hair stand on end as he stood watching him. When the giant had finished, he looked at Jack scornfully and remarked, "Ah, it is as Featherflight said—you are only half a mouthful; but there is room for flesh on your bones, and we shall have to fatten you. Meanwhile, you must earn your victuals. See here, my young snip, can you do a day's work in a day?"
"Yes," answered Jack bravely, "I can do a day's work in a day as well as another."
So the giant said, "Well, go to bed now. I will tell you what your work shall be in the morning."
Jack went to bed, and early the next day the giant took him out to the farmyard and showed him a large barn from the roof of which a recent storm had blown off the thatch. "Behind this barn," said the giant, "you will find a great heap of feathers. Thatch me this barn with those feathers, and if the job is not done by the time I come back to-night, I shall eat you at once, without waiting for you to get any fatter."
Then he left, laughing as he went; for he thought he had given Jack a job he could not possibly do.
Jack found a ladder and a basket and began work. He filled the basket and climbed the ladder, and tried hard to lay and fasten the feathers in place on the roof, but the wind would catch them and scatter them far and wide. He kept at his task for hours, and the heap of feathers was half gone. Yet he had only succeeded in thatching a narrow strip along one edge of the roof. Finally, he sat down at the foot of the ladder, completely discouraged. Pretty soon Lady Featherflight came with some food for him, and he told her his troubles.
"Well," said she, "while you are eating I will see what I can do to help you."
Then she began walking around the barn, singing as she went,
She was walking around the second time when the sky grew dark with what seemed like a heavy cloud that hid the sun. The cloud came nearer and nearer to the earth, and at length proved to be made of hundreds and thousands of birds. They came directly to the barn, and each alighted on the roof with a feather in its beak, and after tucking the feather neatly in flew away. Thus by the time Jack's meal was finished the roof was finished, too.
Then Featherflight said, "Now let us talk and enjoy ourselves until the giant comes home."
So they walked about the garden and grounds, and Jack thought those hours were the pleasantest he had ever known in his life. Toward evening they went into the house and Jack helped Featherflight prepare the giant's supper, which consisted of fourteen loaves of bread, two sheep roasted whole, and a pudding you could not have put in a bushel basket.
By and by the giant came back and pounded at the door with his fists, shouting, "Let me in, let me in!"
As soon as he entered he called to Jack and asked how he had got on with his thatching.
"You'll have no fault to find," said Jack. "I told you I could do a day's work in a day as well as another, and I can."
The giant made no response, but sat down and ate his supper. The next morning he had Jack go out with him while he looked at the barn roof. "I know very well that was not your doing," he remarked.
Then he went on a little beyond the barn and showed Jack a vast heap of grain seeds of many different kinds. "Here is your day's work," said he. "Separate the seeds each into its own pile, and if the job isn't done by the time I come back to-night I shall eat you at once, without fail."
So saying he left, laughing to himself as he went.
Jack sat down before the heap, took a handful of seeds, put wheat in one pile, rye in another, barley in another, and oats in another. But though he worked very industriously, the great heap was scarcely diminished at all when noon came. Jack was tired out, and he sat down with his back against the foundation wall of the barn, feeling very sorrowful. Pretty soon Featherflight came with some food for him, and he told her how badly he was getting along with his day's task.
"Well," said she, "while you are eating I will see what I can do to help you."
Then she began walking around the heap of seeds, singing as she went,
She was walking around the heap the second time when the ground all about appeared as if it were moving. From behind each lump of earth, each daisy stem and blade of grass, there came some little insect, gray, black, brown, or green, and began to work at the seeds; and there was such a multitude of insects that by the time Jack's meal was finished the sorting was done.
For the rest of the day Jack and Lady Featherflight walked and talked in the garden to their hearts' content. With the approach of evening they went into the palace, and Jack helped get supper, and then the giant came thumping at the door, and shouting, "Let me in, let me in!"
As soon as Featherflight opened the door the giant called to Jack to know how he had succeeded with his seed-sorting.
"You'll have no fault to find," said Jack; "for I spoke only the truth when I told you I could do a day's work in a day as well as another."
Then the giant sat down and ate with a great appetite four fat pigs, three hens and a gander, finishing off with a monster pudding. After he had disposed of these things he was so sleepy he could not hold his head up, and he said to Jack, "Go to bed, youngster; I'll see your work to-morrow."
In the morning he called Jack early out to the farmyard, and looked at the seeds. "You never did that sorting alone," said he.
Then he walked on a little farther and showed Jack a heap of sand and said, "From this sand you must make me a hundred ropes with which I may tether my herd of cows, and if the job is not done by the time I am back to-night I shall eat you immediately."
So saying he turned on his heel and went away laughing.
Jack took some sand into his hands to see if he could by any means twist it into the form of a rope. But his efforts were wasted, and he threw the sand away and went into the palace to tell Featherflight how things were. "I know you would help me if you could," said he; "but this task is beyond you, and I feel myself between the giant's teeth already."
"Don't be so disheartened," she responded. "Sit down and we will plan what to do."
They talked and planned all the day until at last they had to stop to get the giant's supper ready. At length the giant came slamming at the door, and he was no sooner in than he wanted to know how Jack had got along with his rope-making.
"It is as I told you," replied Jack; "I can do a day's work in a day as well as another, and you are welcome to see what I have done in the morning."
Then the giant sat down and ate heartily and went off to bed. But Jack and Lady Featherflight waited in the kitchen until they heard the giant snoring, and then Featherflight took the keys of the treasure-room and they went together and got several bags of gold. After that they hurried out and selected the best horse in the best stable, and Jack mounted with Featherflight behind him and off they went.
At three o'clock the next morning the giant woke and called out, "Jack, get up;" for Jack's room was near by, and the giant's command would certainly have been heard had Jack been in his room as the giant supposed.
But there was no response, and the giant turned over and went to sleep. At four o'clock the giant woke again and called out, "Jack, get up!"
But he received no reply, and he turned over and went to sleep. At five o'clock he awoke the third time and shouted, "JACK, GET UP!"
"What ails the fellow?" he growled when he received no answer. "I'll rouse him out in a way he won't like," and the giant went stamping along the passage.
Of course Jack's room was empty, and after the giant had looked in and noticed that the bed had not been slept in he went downstairs to the kitchen. Everything was cold and silent there—no fire, no Jack, no Featherflight. "Ah, ha!" he exclaimed, "they've like enough run away."
Then he hastened out to the farmyard and found the door of his best stable open and his best horse gone. But the giant was so big and strong that he could outrun any horse in the world, and he went after Jack and Featherflight as swift as the wind. They had been galloping all the night, but now the day was come and presently Jack heard a sound behind them, and turning to look he saw the giant striding along to catch them. "Oh, Featherflight," he cried, "all is lost!"
But Featherflight said, "Keep steady, Jack, let the horse go right on."
Then she took from her pocket a little stick and threw it back over her left shoulder. Immediately there grew up behind them a hardwood forest so dense and tangled the giant could not get through it.
"We are saved," said Jack.
"That's not so certain," responded Featherflight; "but at any rate we have gained some time."
The giant was obliged to go home to get an ax. However, he quickly returned and hacked and hewed his way through the woods and was on the trail again. Presently Jack heard him coming. "Oh, Featherflight," he said, "there is the giant! He will soon overtake us. We cannot escape him this time."
"Keep steady, Jack," she said, "and let the horse go straight on."
Then she took from her pocket a little vial of water and threw it back over her right shoulder, and the vial broke when it fell to the ground, and the water became a deep lake between them and the giant. Jack was so elated then that he stopped the horse and waved his hat toward the giant who was standing on the farther shore.
The giant shook his fist at them and looked this way and that, in doubt what to do next. "How can I get over?" the monster bellowed.
"Drink your way through," shouted Jack.
So the giant stooped down and drank and drank and drank until he burst, and that was the end of him.
As for Jack and Featherflight, they went on now more leisurely, for they no longer feared pursuit. By and by they came near to a town and stopped under a tree. "Featherflight," said Jack, "you climb this tree and hide, and I will go to the town to get a parson to come and marry us. Another thing I must do is to buy a suit of fine clothes before I am seen with so beautiful a lady as yourself."
So Featherflight climbed the tree and hid in the thick leafage. She found a comfortable place to sit among the branches, and then she observed that directly below her was a clear spring into which she could look and see the reflection of her face as in a mirror. This spring was used by all the housewives of the town, and every morn and noon and evening they resorted thither to gossip and fill their pails and pitchers. No water was so sweet anywhere else. Featherflight had not been long in the tree when the carpenter's wife came and bent over the spring. There she saw Featherflight's lovely face reflected; but she thought it was her own and she looked with astonishment, exclaiming, "What! I a carpenter's wife and so handsome; and here I am a common drudge come to this spring for water. Well, I'll do no more such work! I'll go away from this poor little town and seek my fortune."
So she threw down her pitcher, and off she went along the road that led away from the town.
The next woman who came for water was the butcher's wife, and as she bent over the clear spring she saw Featherflight's lovely face; but she thought it was her own. She gazed with astonishment, exclaiming, "What! I a butcher's wife and so handsome; yet here I am a common drudge. Well, I'll do no more housework! I'll leave this poor little town at once and seek my fortune."
So she threw down the pail she had in her hand, and off she went along the road that led away from the town.
In the same manner all the other wives of the town came and looked in the spring and were surprised at what they thought was their own beauty and went away to seek their fortunes.
But presently the men of the town began to want their dinners, and one by one they went out on the streets each to ask the others if they had by any chance seen his wife. No, not a wife had been seen since they had gone for water. Then the men began to fear foul play, and all together they walked out of the town to the spring. When they reached it they found many broken pitchers and overturned pails strewn around, and were certain then their wives had met with some mysterious disaster. One of the men happened to glance into the spring and saw a face reflected. He knew it was not his own, and he began to look about. In a moment or two he saw Lady Featherflight among the branches of the tree, and he called to his comrades, "Here is some one in the tree. I'll wager she knows what has become of our wives, and has had something to do with spiriting them away."
"Yes!" cried another. "Here is the enchantress. She has bewitched our wives. Let us kill her!"
They began to drag her out of the tree in spite of all she could say or do; but just then Jack came galloping back on his horse with the parson mounted behind; and in his fine new clothes you would hardly have known him to be the poor ragged fellow who passed over the road in the other direction only a short time previous. As he drew near he saw the crowd and shouted, "What's the matter? What are you doing with that lady?"
The men replied, "We are going to hang her. She has bewitched our wives, and murdered them, too, for all we know."
Then the parson got down off the horse from behind Jack and told the men to stop and let Lady Featherflight tell her own story. So they asked her what she had to say for herself, and when she told them how their wives had mistaken her face in the spring for theirs and what the wives had said they were silent for a few moments, and then one and all exclaimed, "Well, if that is what our wives think of themselves we will seek for them no farther. They can come home when they get ready;" and the men turned and walked back to the town.
The parson married Jack and Lady Featherflight on the spot, and then they also went to the town, and there they saw a splendid mansion they thought they would like and Jack bought it. In that they lived happily for many months, but at last Jack began to wish for more of the giant's treasure and proposed that they should go back after it. "But how could we cross the lake you made?" said he.
"We might build a bridge," replied Lady Featherflight.
The bridge was built and they went over it with many wagons and horses, and loaded the wagons at the giant's palace with great riches. But as the wagons on their return were crossing the bridge the last one broke the bridge down, and all the gold and silver and jewels on that wagon were lost in the lake.
"Alas!" Jack lamented, "now the bridge is gone and we can get nothing more from the giant's treasure-room."
But Lady Featherflight said, "Why not mend the bridge?"
"To be sure!" said Jack, "why not?"