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

Jack and the King Who Was a Gentleman

It is much to be regretted that the Bummadier was not a millionaire; for in that case, at the Bocht money would run like the rain at Lammas. Of course, with a steady and assured income of two pounds five shillings and sixpence per quarter, he was rich enough to be generous—but, alas, not rich enough to be lavish.

There was no other employer of labour at the Bocht to whom the youngsters would give their services with the alacrity they ever showed when the Bummadier had a cart of fir to take in, or rushes to bear home from the Bottoms, to thatch his cabin. And, awaiting their promised pennies, they, in course of time, got to know Pay-day, and to long for it with all the greedy eagerness of the thirstiest old pensioner in the land.

But, in consideration of Pay-day being still far in the future, Corney was frequently importuned by his mercenaries to acknowledge their drafts, and pay interest thereon, in the shape of a good exciting story of the King's-and-Queen's age. Which demands, that he might stave off a run on the bank, the Bummadier was fain to concede. For the Widow's Pat, these tales had a thrilling interest, and on the occasion of one, seated in his usual siostog in the corner, he followed it with such breathless excitement as held not even the youngsters themselves.

Well, childre: wanst upon a time, when pigs was swine, there was a poor widdy woman lived all alone with her wan son Jack in a wee hut of a house, that on a dark night ye might aisily walk over it by mistake, not knowin' at all, at all, it was there, barrin' ye'd happen to strike yer toe again' it. An' Jack an' his mother lived for lee an' long, as happy as hard times would allow them, in this wee hut of a house, Jack sthrivin' to 'arn a little support for them both by workin' out, an' doin' wee turns back an' forrid to the neigbbours. But there was one winter, an' times come to look black enough for them—nothin' to do, an' less to ate, an' clothe themselves as best they might; an' the winther wore on, gettin' harder an' harder, till at length when Jack got up out of his bed on a-mornin', an' axed his mother to make ready the drop of stirabout for their little brakwus as usual, "Musha, Jack, a mhic," says his mother, says she, "the male-chist—thanks be to the Lord!—is as empty as Paddy Ruadh's donkey that used to ate his brakwus at supper-time. It stood out long an' well, but it's empty at last, Jack, an' no sign of how we're goin' to get it filled again—only we trust in the good Lord that niver yet disarted the widow and the orphan—He'll not see us wantin', Jack."

"The Lord helps them that help themselves, mother," says Jack back again to her.

"Thrue for ye, Jack," says she, "but I don't see how we're goin' to help ourselves."

"He's a mortial dead mule out an' out that hasn't a kick in him," says Jack. "An', mother, with the help of Providence—not comparin' the Christian to the brute baste—I have a kick in me yet; if you thought ye could only manage to sthrive along the best way you could for a week, or maybe two weeks, till I get back again off a little journey I'd like to undhertake."

"An' may I make bould to ax, Jack," says his mother to him, "where would ye be afther makin' the little journey to?"

"You may that, then, Mother," says Jack. "It's this: You know the King of Munsther is a great jintleman entirely. It's put on him, he's so jintlemanly, that he was niver yet known to make use of a wrong or disrespectable word. An' he prides himself on it so much that he has sent word over all the known airth that he'll give his beautiful daughter—the loveliest picthur in all Munsther, an' maybe in all Irelan', if we'd say it—an' her weight in goold, to any man that in three trials will make him use the unrespectful word, an' say, 'Ye're a liar!' But every man that tries him, an' fails, loses his head. All sorts and descriptions of people, from prences an' peers down to bagmen an' beggars, have come from all parts of the known world to thry for the great prize, an' all of them up to this has failed, an' by consequence lost their heads. But, mother dear," says Jack, "where's the use in a head to a man if he can't get mail for it to ate? So I'm goin' to thry me fortune, only axin' your blissin' an' God's blissin' to help me on the way."

"Why, Jack, a thaisge," says his mother, "it's a dangersome task; but as you remark, where's the good of the head to ye when ye can't get mail to put in it? So, I give ye my blissin', an' night, noon, an' mornin' I'll be prayin' for ye to prosper."

An' Jack set out, with his heart as light as his stomach, an' his pocket as light as them both together; but a man 'ill not travel far in ould Irelan' (thanks be to God!) on the bare-footed stomach—as we'll call it—or it'll be his own fault if he does; an' Jack didn't want for plenty of first-class aitin' an' dhrinkin' lashin's an' laivin's, and pressin' him to more. An' in this way he thravelled away afore him for five long days till he come to the King of Munsther's castle. And when he was comed there he rattled on the gate, an' out come the king.

"Well, me man," says the king, "what might be your business here?"

"I'm come here, your Kingship," says Jack, mighty polite, an' pullin' his forelock, be raison his poor ould mother had always insthructed him in the heighth of good breedin'—"I'm come here, your R'yal Highness," says Jack, "to thry for yer daughter."

"Hum!" says the king. "Me good young man," says he, "don't ye think it a poor thing to lose yer head?"

"If I lose it," says Jack, "sure one consolation 'ill be that I'll lose it in a glorious cause."

An' who do ye think would be listenin' to this same deludherin' speech of Jack's, from over the wall, but the king's beautiful daughter herself. She took an eyeful out of Jack, an' right well plaised she was with his appearance, for,—

"Father," says she at once, "hasn't the boy as good a right to get a chance as another? What's his head to you? Let the boy in," says she.

An' sure enough, without another word, the King took Jack within the gates, an' handin' him over to the sarvints, tould him to be well looked afther an' cared for till mornin'.

Next mornin' the King took Jack with him an' fetched him out into the yard. "Now then, Jack," says he, "we're goin' to begin. We'll drop into the stables here, an' I'll give you your first chance."

So he took Jack into the stables an' showed him some wondherful big horses, the likes of which poor Jack never saw afore, an' everyone of which was the heighth of the side wall of the castle an' could step over the castle walls, which were twenty-five feet high, without strainin' themselves.

"Them's purty big horses, Jack," says the King. "I don't suppose ever ye saw as big or as wondherful as them in yer life."

"Oh, they're purty big indeed," says Jack, takin' it as cool as if there was nothin' whatsomever astonishin' to him about them. "They're purty big indeed," says Jack, "for this counthry. But at home with us in Donegal we'd only count them little nags, shootable for the young ladies to dhrive in pony-carriages."

"What!" says the King, "do ye mane to tell me ye have seen bigger in Donegal?"

"Bigger!" says Jack. "Phew! Blood alive, yer Kingship, I seen horses in my father's stable that could step over your horses without thrippin'. My father owned one big horse—the greatest, I believe, in the world again."

"What was he like?" says the King.

"Well, yer Highness," says Jack, "it's quite beyond me to tell ye what he was like. But I know when we wanted to mount it could only be done by means of a step-laddher, with nine hundred and ninety steps to it, every step a mile high, an' you had to jump seven mile off the topmost step to get on his back. He ate nine ton of turnips, nine ton of oats, an' nine ton of hay, in the day an' it took ninety-nine men in the day-time, an' ninety-nine more in the night-time, carrying his feeds to him; an' when he wanted a drink, the ninety-nine men had to lead him to a lough that was nine mile long, nine mile broad, an' nine mile deep, an' he used to drink it dry every time," says Jack, an' then he looked at the King, expectin' he'd surely have to make a liar of him for that.

But the King only smiled at Jack, an' says he, "Jack, that was a wonderful horse entirely, an' no mistake."

Then he took Jack with him out into the garden for his second trial, an' showed him a bee-skep, the size of the biggest rick of hay ever Jack had seen; an' every bee in the skep was the size of a thrush, an' the queeny bee as big as a jackdaw.

"Jack," says the King, says he, "isn't them wondherful bees? I'll warrant ye, ye never saw anything like them?"

"Oh, they're middlin'—middlin' fairish," says Jack—"for this counthry. But they're nothin' at all to the bees we have in Donegal. If one of our bees was flying across the fields," says Jack, "and one of your bees happened to come in its way, an' fall into our bee's eye, our bee would fly to the skep, an' ax another bee to take the mote out of his eye."

"Do you tell me so, Jack?" says the King. "You must have great monsthers of bees."

"Monsthers," says Jack. "Ah, yer Highness, monsthers is no name for some of them. I remimber," says Jack, says he, "a mighty great breed of bees me father owned. They were that big that when my father's new castle was a-buildin' (in the steddin' of the old one which he consaived to be too small for a man of his mains), and when the workmen closed in the roof, it was found there was a bee inside, an' the hall door not bein' wide enough, they had to toss the side wall to let it out. Then the queeny bee—ah! she was a wondherful baste entirely!" says Jack. "Whenever she went out to take the air she used to overturn all the ditches and hedges in the country; the wind of her wings tossed houses and castles; she used to swallow whole flower gardens; an' one day she flew against a ridge of mountains nineteen thousand feet high and knocked a piece out from top to bottom, an' it's called Barnesmore Gap to this day. This queeny bee was a great trouble an' annoyance to my father, seein' all the harm she done the naybours round about; and once she took it in her head to fly over to England, an' she created such mischief an' disolation there that the King of Englan' wrote over to my father if he didn't come immaidiately an' take home his queeny bee that was wrackin' an' ruinin' all afore her he'd come over himself at the head of all his army and wipe my father off the face of the airth. So my father ordhered me to mount our wondherful big horse that I tould ye about, an' that could go nineteen mile at every step, an' go over to Englan' an' bring home our queeny bee. An' I mounted the horse an' started, an' when I come as far as the sea I had to cross to get over to Englan', I put the horse's two fore feet into my hat, an' in that way he thrashed the sea dhry all the way across an' landed me safely. When I come to the King of Englan' he had to supply me with nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand men an' ninety-nine thousand mile of chains an' ropes to catch the queeny bee an' bind her. It took us nine years to catch her, nine more to tie her, an' nine years and nine millions of men to drag her home, an' the King of Englan' was a beggar afther from that day till the day of his death. Now what do ye think of that bee?" says Jack, thinkin' he had the King this time sure enough.

But the King was a cuter one than Jack took him for, an' he only smiled again, an' says he,—

"Well, Jack, that was a wondherful great queeny bee entirely."

Next, for poor Jack's third an' last chance, the King took him to show him a wondherful field of beans he had, with every bean-stalk fifteen feet high an' every bean the size of a goose's egg.

"Well, Jack," says the King, says he, "I'll engage ye never saw more wondherful bean-stalks than them?"

"Is it them?" says Jack. "Arrah, man, yer Kingship," says he, "they may be very good—for this counthry; but sure we'd throw them out of the ground for useless afther-shoots in Donegal. I mind one bean-stalk in partickler, that my father had for a show an' a cur'osity, that he used to show as a great wondher entirely to sthrangers. It stood on ninety-nine acres of ground, it was nine hundred mile high, an' every leaf covered nine acres. It fed nine thousand horses, nine thousand mules, an' nine thousand jackasses for nineteen years. He used to send nine thousand harvestmen up the stalk in spring to cut and gather off the soft branches at the top. They used to cut these off when they'd reach up as far as them (which was always in the harvest time), an' throw them down, an' nine hundred and ninety-nine horses an' carts were kept busy for nine months carting the stuff away. Then the harvestmen always reached down to the foot of the stalk at Christmas again."

"Faix, Jack," says the King, "it was a wondherful bean-stalk, that, entirely."

"You might say that," says Jack, trying to make the most of it, for he was now on his last leg. "You might say that," says he. "Why, I mind one year I went up the stalk with the harvestmen, an' when I was nine thousand mile up, doesn't I miss my foot, and down I come. I fell feet foremost, and sunk up to my chin in a whinstone rock that was at the foot. There I was in a quandhary—but I was not long ruminatin' till I hauled out my knife, an' cut off my head, an' sent it home to look for help. I watched after it, as it went away, an' lo, an' behould ye, afore it had gone half a mile I saw a fox set on it, and begin to worry it. 'By this an' by that,' says I to meself, 'but this is too bad!'—an' I jumped out an' away as hard as I could run, to the assistance of my head. An' when I come up, I lifted my foot, an' give the fox three kicks, an' knocked three kings out of him—every one of them a nicer an' a better jintleman than you."

"Ye're a liar, an' a rascally liar," says the King.

"More power to ye!" says Jack, givin' three buck leaps clean into the air, "an' it's proud I am to get you to confess it; for I have won yer daughter."

Right enough the King had to give up to Jack the daughter—an' be the same token, from the first time she clapped her two eyes on Jack she wasn't the girl to gainsay him—an' her weight in goold. An' they were both of them marrid, an' had such a weddin' as surpassed all the weddin's ever was heerd tell of afore or since in that country or in this. An' Jack lost no time in sendin' for his poor ould mother, an' neither herself nor Jack ever after knew what it was to be in want. An' may you an' I never know that same naither.

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