Gateway to the Classics: In Chimney Corners by Seumas MacManus
In Chimney Corners by  Seumas MacManus

The Giant of the Band Beggars' Hall

Once upon a time when there were plenty of Kings and Queens in Ireland—it's many of them often we heard of, but few of them ever we seen, except in dhrawin's and picthurs—there was a King and a Queen, and they had one son called Jack. Now, this Jack, when he grew up, was a fine, strong, strapping, able fellow, and he was very fond of fishing. There was one river in particular, alive with trout and fishes of all descriptions, that Jack would never be tired fishing in, but at length the trouts and other fishes in this river begun to get so old-fashioned for him that when they'd find him fishing on one side of the river they would all swim to the other side; and then when my poor Jack would take a boat and cross over to the other side after them, back they'd all swim, and be at the opposite side again by the time he'd have got to the far bank, and they'd then commence wagging their tails, the creatures, out of the water at him tauntingly. Well, it wasn't in human nature to stand that sort of thing; no more was it in Jack, for Jack, of course, was only human; and then Jack would come home in the evening in the very devil of a temper, and maybe commence kicking the cat out of spite, bekase the trouts wagged their tails at him. So this, of course, more or less vexed the King and the Queen, and they put their heads together and had long confabs, consulting what they could do to mollify poor Jack; but the short and the long of it was, they agreed, let it cost what it might, that a bridge must be built over the river for Jack, so that he would be across the river and back before the trouts could have time to get up their tails and wag them. Well, the very next day after this conclusion was come to, all the masons in the country were got together and the bridge built. Early the next morning Jack was up and out, and swearing that there would be no more tails wagged at him or he'd know the reason why. But, lo, and behold you! when he come to the place where the bridge was put up the day afore, there wasn't two stones of it a-top of other; it was tumbled to the ground and scattered aist and waist, and there didn't seem to be a trout in the river but was gathered to the place, and as soon as Jack put in an appearance ye would think they were wagging their tails for a wager. Jack turned and went home, and he met the cat on the hall-door steps, and he hit her a kick that knocked her clean through the bottom of a new oaken milk-tub his mother had out on the steps airing.

"Well, Jack," sez the King, "surely the trouts aren't wagging their tails at you this morning, now that we have built ye that beautiful new bridge, that there isn't the like of it in the country again?"

"Aren't they though?" sez Jack, sez he. "Its a nice show, your bridge is, this morning, if ye'd be so kind as to go out and look at it, and see how there isn't the second stone of it together, and it's the trouts that know it—the sweet sorra," sez he, "seize the little sowls of the rascals; I never saw them going through such tantrums; it's what one old boyo of a trout that I have had my eye on for the last month curled his tail actually round to his nose," sez he, "and winked his eye out at me," sez he.

"Ye don't tell me so, Jack?" sez the King. "Well, well, this is a purty how d'ye do. Well, Jack," sez he, "I suppose there's no use crying over spilt masonry, no more nor spilt milk, and all we can do is call the masons together again, and build it up."

So, called together they were, and the bridge was up again afore night. And my brave Jack was up with the lark in the morning, and down to the river with his rod, but oh, sorra seize the bridge or bridge was there! It was scattered to the four winds; and the trouts, the scoundhrils, they were ten times more provoking then ever, actually standing on their heads with delight. There was no holding of Jack this morning. He came back from the river in the very mischief of a temper, and not meeting with the cat this time—for she found him coming back—he lifted the milk-tub that his mother had got a new bottom in since, and knocked it clean through the hall-door and the partition beyond, into the parlour where the King and the Queen were sitting at breakfast, scattering the table and the fine spread of pancakes and tea all over the room.

"Oh, Jack, Jack," sez the King, sez he, coming rushing out—"Jack, Jack," sez he; "calm yourself, calm yourself. You have frightened your poor mother out of a year's growth, and spoiled her nice pancakes on her."

"Oh, pancakes be rammed!" sez Jack.

"Jack, Jack," sez the King, sez he; "what—what's the matter this morning? Surely that old trout hasn't been putting his tail to his nose this morning again? If he has," sez he, "trust me but I'll soon have him taught a trick worth two of that. He must be let know who's master and who's man here, and that he can't treat the King's son with disrespect."

"Oh," sez Jack, sez he, "I wish you'd just go down and look at thon bridge of yours this morning again, maybe ye'd find reason to understand then, that not the King's son, but the King himself is treated with disrespect and contempt."

"Jack," sez the King, taken aback, "surely, Jack," sez he, "ye don't mean to insinuate that the bridge is down again?"

"Don't I though?" sez Jack, with a sneer.

"Well," sez the King, shaking his head, and looking at the ground—"well," sez he, "that flogs the divil."

"I'll tell you what it is," sez Jack. "You put up the bridge once more, and leave the rest of it to me; if it comes down again I'll be able to give an account of myself, and I'll make some devil dance to a tune he didn't call for."

"The third time's the charm," sez the King; "and the third time it will go up, Jack. Then I'll leave the rest of it to you."

So, up it went the third time, and that night Jack determined to sit up and watch the bridge. All went well till about close on midnight, when, Jack being nodding asleep on the bridge, he found it shaking. Up he jumps, and down he runs under the bridge to see what was wrong with it, or who was shaking it, and there, och, och! he beheld the greatest giant he ever saw in his life afore.

"Who are you?" sez the Giant, ready to devore Jack.

"I am the King's son, Jack," sez Jack, sez he.

"Well," sez the Giant, "all rights to this river belong to me, and the King should not have built a bridge over it. By right," sez he, "I should take your life now; but I see," sez he, "you're a smart, clean, active-looking boy, and would be sarviceable to me; and as I never yet took unfair advantage of an enemy, it's not worth my while commencing on you," sez the Giant, sez he, "so I'll give you a chance for your life," sez he. Here's a pack of cards, now," sez he, producing a pack, "and I'll play you a fair game. If you win, you'll get your life, and I'll let the bridge remain, but if I win I'll either take your life on the spot or put a condition on you. Do you agree to that?"

"Done," sez Jack, for he thought to himself it would be all the one anyhow, whether he agreed to it or not.

"What game will it be?" sez the Giant.

"Short, and be done with it; we'll make it twenty-five," sez Jack.

"All right," sez the Giant, "cut for deal."

Jack cut and won the deal. He shuffled and dealt them, turned a five and won three tricks.

"That's sharp for me, Jack," says the Giant, as he shuffled.

Jack got a slashing hand again. Spades was trumps, and Jack led with the ace, but the big fellow covered with the ace of hearts, raised again with the fingers of trumps, and followed up with the knave, a twinkle in his eye all the time.

Jack threw down his cards.

"Ha, ha! Jack," says the Giant, "too able for ye? Eh? No odds though," sez he; "you're not a bad hand at the flats, and have a deal of spunk in you, so I'll give ye a chance for your life yet."

"What's that?" sez Jack.

"It's this," says the Giant. "Within a year and a day from this you're to find out my castle, where I live when I'm at home: but if you're not able to find it, then I'll have your life, toss this bridge, and leave the highest stone in your father's castle the lowest."

"And who are you?" sez Jack,

Sez the Giant,—

"I'm the Giant of Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all."

"I have never heard of your castle," sez Jack.

"Nor I hope never will," sez the Giant.

"Well, that's to be seen," says Jack.

So the Giant and he parted, and Jack went home—for it was now morning—and told the King and Queen all that had happened. They were greatly vexed entirely, and cursed it for a misfortunate bridge, and tried to persuade Jack to remain at home and not go away on such a wild-goose chase, to the Lord knows where, looking for

"The Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all."

But Jack wasn't to be persuaded, and whether or why, he would go, and never rest till he would find him out, or else lose his life. So he spit on his stick, and, taking his father's and mother's blessing, started off that very day. And Jack travelled afore him for months, without ever once stopping, or eating a bite, or sleeping a wink; and at nightfall one day, he came to a great castle on a lonely moor in the Easthern World, and he went in and saw a Giant sitting by the fire. When Jack came in, the Giant got up, and sez he,—

"You're very welcome, Jack, the King of Ireland's son, for I haven't seen the face of a Christian for the last three hundred years."

Jack wondered how he knew his name, but he didn't say anything. The Giant then put Jack sitting by a roaring fire, and taking a knife he cut down the quarter of a rat that was hung in the smoke of the chimney and roasted it on the coals, and himself and Jack made a hearty supper of it, and then each of them slept on a harrow with a goatskin under them and another over them, and Jack slept hearty and well, for he was very tired entirely. Next morning he rose as fresh as a butterfly, and after breakfasting on another quarter of the rat, sez the Giant, sez he,—

"I didn't ask you, Jack—where were you going?"

"No more you might," sez Jack; "I might tell you where I'm coming from, but where I'm going is more than I knows."

So Jack starts and he tells him the whole story about him and the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall. And then he asked him if he could give him any tidings of where he lived?

"Well, no," sez the Giant, "I heard of him only, and that was all. But I'll tell you what I'll do," sez he. "I have command of a third of the birds of the air, and it's likely some of them may know something about him, and if they do I'll soon find it out for you," sez he.

So with that he blew a whistle, and immediately from all corners of the sky the birds begun for to gather, and very soon they were all round the castle, making the sky dark. Then the Giant put it to them did they know anything of—

"The Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all,"

or where he lived.

But no, they said they heard tell of him only, but none of them ever reached where he lived.

"Well," sez the Giant, sez he to Jack, "it's bad enough. But I'll tell you what," sez he. "I'll give you a pair of nine-mile boots, and with them you'll reach an older brother of mine who lives a long ways off entirely, and he has command over half the birds of the air, and maybe he could do something for you."

Jack thanked him, and putting on the boots he started away and travelled on, and on, and on, nine mile at every step, till late at night he reached the Giant's older brother's castle away on a very lonely moor, and going in he saw the Giant sitting by the fire. The Giant got up and he says,—

"You're welcome Jack, the King of Ireland's son, for I haven't seen the face of a Christian for six hundred years. You stopped at my brother's house last night," sez he.

"I did," sez Jack, all the time wondering how he knew him, or where he stopped last night, but he said nothing.

Then the Giant put Jack beside the big fire, and cutting down two quarters of a rat that was hung in the smoke of the chimney, he roasted them, and Jack and he ate a quarter a piece, and then they went to bed, everyone of them on a harrow, with a goatskin under them and another over them; and Jack slept well and sound for he was very tired, and got up as fresh as a butterfly in the morning, and when they had eaten a good breakfast of the other half of the rat the Giant asked Jack where was he going.

"Well," sez Jack, sez he, "I might tell you how far I come, but I can't tell you how far I am going," and he ups and he tells this Giant the whole story too.

"Well," sez the Giant, sez he, "it's bad enough, but I'll do all I can to help you. I heard tell of the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall, and that's all I know about him; but I have command over half the birds of the air, and it's likely some of them may know something about him, and if they do I'll soon find out."

So he took out a little whistle and blew it, and in a minute the sky commenced to darken with great flocks of birds flying from all corners, and they all gathered round the Giant's castle. Then the Giant, he put the question to them, if any of them in their travels had come across the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall,

"The Giant of Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all."

But none of them had ever come across him. They had heard tell of him, they said, but that was all.

"Well, it's bad enough," sez the Giant to Jack, "but there's one other remedy yet. I'll lend you a pair of nine-league boots; and I have a brother lives a day's journey from here, by them, who has command over all the birds of the air, and maybe he'll be able to help you."

So off Jack set in the nine-league boots, and late that night he reached the third Giant's house. When he went in, he saw the Giant sitting by the fire, and he got up and welcomed Jack.

"You're welcome, Jack," sez he, "the King of Ireland's son, for I haven't seen the face of a Christian for the last nine hundred years. You slept at my brother's house last night."

Then he sat Jack down by the fire, and reaching up the chimney he took down a rat that was hanging in the smoke, and roasting it on the fire, himself and Jack made a hearty supper of it. And they went to bed, each of them lying on a harrow, with a goat-skin over them and one under them. And Jack slept well and sound, and got up in the morning, as fresh as a butterfly. And after they had made a good breakfast on another rat, sez the Giant, sez he,—

"Jack, may I ask you how far you intend going?"

"Well," sez Jack, sez he, "I may tell you how far I come, but as to how far I'm going it's more nor I could tell."

So he starts and he tells the Giant the whole story, and he then asked him if he could give him any information as to where the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall lived?

"Well, no," sez the Giant, sez he, "I heard tell of the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall, but that was all. But I'll tell you what I'll do," sez the Giant. "I have command of all the birds of the air, and I'll call them together to see if they would know anything about him."

So the Giant blew a whistle, and in a minute the sky was darkened by all the birds of the air gathering together from all corners. And when they were all gathered over the castle the Giant put it to them—Did any of them know anything of

"The Giant of Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all."

But, lo and behold ye, not one of them knew a thing about him; they had heard tell of him, they said, but none of them ever reached to where he lived.

Poor Jack got into bad heart at this intelligence.

"What will I do now," sez Jack, sez he, to the Giant, "for I'm done now, out and out?"

"I don't know, Jack," sez the Giant. "But hold," sez he, "on second thoughts there's one eagle that isn't here. He flies everywhere over the whole known world, and only comes here to see me once in seven years, and I'm expecting him to-day, for it's just seven years this day since he was with me before. Wait till we see, when he comes, if he has any tidings of him; and if he hasn't I don't know what you'll do."

And sure enough, that very evening they saw the monstrous big eagle—the like of it, for size, Jack never saw before—coming in a thunder-cloud, darkening the very sky with its wings; and when the Giant saw this, sez he,—

"Now, Jack," sez he, "it will not do to let you be seen by the eagle, for he would eat any human being he would see, especially now, when he is coming home ravenous after his big fly."

So he sewed Jack up in a big leathern bag, and hung him by the side of the chimney. And as soon as the eagle had come, the Giant welcomed him and asked him if there was any news.

"No," sez the eagle very sharp, "where would I get news? I'm dead with hunger," sez he; "and get me something to eat at once. It will be better for me than gossiping news with you."

So the Giant went and fetched in a bullock and twelve lambs; and the eagle fell to at once and ate them, bones and all; and he then put his head into his wings and went asleep at once. And the Giant went to bed, too; and Jack was still in the leathern bag, listening to and watching all that was going on. It was late the next morning when the eagle awoke after his big feed. When he did he called for breakfast, and the Giant fetched him in another bullock and twelve lambs, and he ate these up quickly, bones and all; and when he had finished he stroked down his breast with his beak, and flapped his wings two or three times.

"Now," sez he, "I'm myself again."

"Do ye know," sez the Giant, sez he to him, "do ye know, or have ye met in all your travels, the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall?"

"What would I know about him?" sez the eagle. Then, sez he, "I was there once, but I'll never go there again, for it's away out of the world entirely."

"Well," sez the Giant, "he was here lately, and he left that bag to be sent to his place, and he is to behead me if I don't get it there."

"Well, I'll not take it," sez the eagle.

"Very well, then," sez the Giant, "I suppose I must wait on my fate."

At last, after some time, the eagle sez, sez he,—

"Well, you know, I'm under an obligation to you and your family, and I couldn't refuse you anything; so, I suppose I must take it."

So the Giant took the bag into a room; to sew a burst that was in it, he told the eagle. Then he put in with Jack as much provisions as would last him for a twelve-month. He bid Jack good-bye and wished him God-speed. And Jack heartily thanked him. He then sewed up the bag again and gave it to the eagle. He took it up and started away on his flight, and he flew on, and on, and on, till the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, and poor Jack thought they would never reach their journey's end. But at length, when they were nearly a year out—though it seemed to Jack to be twenty years since they started—Jack found the eagle slackening in his flight, and coming down, and down, and down, lower and lower, till at length they touched ground, and Jack cut a little hole in the bag to look out of, and there he saw a castle far greater than all the castles put together that ever he had seen before, and out of it there comes a great Giant, and when Jack saw him he didn't know whether to be glad or sorry, for it was no other nor

"The Giant of Band-beggars' Hall,

The greatest Giant over them all."

"You're welcome," sez the Giant to the eagle. "It's so long since you were here I thought I'd never see your face more."

"It's seldom come the better," sez the eagle; "you'll never see it again if I have my will. And, indeed," sez he, "if it wasn't for this bag I was sent with to you, you wouldn't see me now. There it is," sez the eagle, "and good-bye."

So off he flew, and the Giant said to himself he wondered who would be sending a bag to him, or what was in it. So, taking out a big clasp-knife, he cut open the bag, and out my brave Jack steps, and,—

"How do ye do," sez Jack, sez he, "the Giant of Band-beggars' Hall, the greatest Giant over them all?"

Well, the Giant, when he caught a glimpse of Jack, was staggered and dumbfoundered.

"Well, Jack," sez he, at length, when he come to himself, "ye're a most wonderful fellow. This bangs all ever I knew," sez he. "I surely thought that I had the better of you; but I see you were too clever by half for me. And I'll stand to my contract, for you deserve to have your life spared. And more than that," sez he, "I have a young daughter that I never intended to let marry—for I couldn't think to get a husband for her that would be to my liking, till I fell in with you—but now that I have met you and seen the uncommon clever man you are entirely, you can have her if she takes your fancy, with a heart and a half, and a handsome fortune."

Jack said nothing to this till he would see her, for he had a fancy that no matter what fortune she might have—and he suspected the fortune such a Giant could give with her would be no miss—he could find nicer girls in Ireland. But, och, when he saw the very first sight of her, the beauties of Ireland all flew out of his head, and he was head and ears in love with her at once, for the like of her for pure downright loveliness he never before laid his two eyes on. And when her father asked her what she thought of Jack, she couldn't contain herself, she was that much in love with him. So the thing was settled up at once, for Jack was thinking of his poor father and mother grieving for him at home, and couldn't delay. Then the Giant of the Band-beggars' Hall counted out to Jack, as a fortune with the beauty, a sword that the man who fought with it couldn't be beaten, and a loaf of bread that would never grow less no matter how much was cut off it, and a flask of whisky that would never be emptied no matter how much was drunk from it, and a purse that would always be full no matter how much was taken out of it. He then gave them two wishing-caps that they had only to put them on their heads and wish to be any place, and they would be there. So they took the Giant's blessing, and putting their caps on their heads, wished to be at the oldest of the three brother Giant's house that helped Jack; and when they come there Jack gave him the sword, for he said he had no use for it, seeing there wasn't a man in Ireland he was afraid of. They then put on their caps and wished to be at the next Giant's; and when they come there, Jack gave him the loaf, for he said Ireland never yet knew want. Then, they put on the caps again, and wished to be at the first Giant's house that Jack fell in with, and when they came there, Jack gave him the flask of whiskey, for, he said, the rivers in Ireland flowed with it. He kept the purse for himself, saying that he could do good with it. They then put on their caps, and wished to be home in the King's Castle in Ireland; and home they were at once. And that was the reception was for them! And there was the joy and the rejoicing! And all the country was asked in to the wedding. And such a spread of eating and drinking, and carousing, lasting for nine days, was never known in Ireland afore! But Jack first went on the bridge, and hooked the trout that put its tail to its nose, and winked its eye about at him, and he stuck that trout against the wall with a corker pin through its body for the nine days the feast lasted, till it saw all the rejoicement, and wriggled and twisted, and heartily repented having ever been unrespectful to Jack. From that day forward Jack fished to his heart's content off the bridge, and he caught no end of the trouts for they couldn't trick him any longer, and none of them ever afterwards wagged their tails out of the water at Jack, and himself and his beautiful wife lived happy ever after.

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