Two hunchback cobblers, Billy Beg and Tom Beg, lived together on a lonely croft not far from Dalby. Billy Beg was sharper and cleverer than Tom Beg, who was always at his command. One day Billy Beg gave Tom a staff, and said:
"Tom Beg, go to the mountain and fetch home the white sheep."
Tom Beg took the staff and went to the mountain, but he could not find the white sheep. At last, when he was far from home and dusk was coming on, he began to think that he had best go back. The night was fine, and stars and a small crescent moon were in the sky. No sound was heard but the curlew's sharp whistle. Tom was hastening home, and had almost reached Glen Rushen when a grey mist gathered and he lost his way. But it was not long before the mist cleared, and Tom Beg found himself in a green glen such as he had never seen before, though he thought he knew every glen within five miles of him, for he was born and reared in the neighbourhood. He was marvelling and wondering where he could be, when he heard a far-away sound drawing nearer to him.
"Aw," said he to himself, "I'll have company."
The sound grew louder. First, it was like the humming of bees, then like the rushing of Glen Meay waterfall, and last it was like the marching and the murmur of a crowd. It was the fairy host. Of a sudden the glen was full of fine horses and of Little People riding on them, with the lights on their red caps, shining like the stars above, and making the night as bright as day. Horns were blown, flags were waved, fair tunes were played, and many little dogs were barking. Tom Beg thought that he had never seen anything so splendid as all he saw there. In the middle of the drilling and dancing and singing one of them spied Tom, and then Tom saw coming towards him the grandest Little Man he had ever set eyes on, dressed in gold and silver, and silk shining like a raven's wing.
"It is a bad time you have chosen to come this way," said the Little Man, who was the king.
"Yes; but it is not here that I'm wishing to be, though," said Tom.
Then said the king, "Are you one of us tonight, Tom?"
"I am surely," said Tom.
"Then," said the king, " it will be your duty to take the password. You must stand at the foot of the glen, and as each regiment goes by, you must take the password: it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday."
"I'll do that with a heart and a half," said Tom.
At daybreak the fiddlers took up their fiddles, the fairy army set itself in order, the fiddlers played before them out of the glen, and that music was sweet. Each regiment gave the password to Tom as it went by - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; and last of all came the king, and he, too, gave it: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday." Then he called to one of his men:
"Take the hump from this fellow's back," and before the words were out of his mouth the hump was whisked off Tom Beg's back and thrown into the hedge. How proud now was Tom, who so found himself the straightest man in the Isle of Man! He went down the mountain and came home early in the morning with light heart and eager step. Billy Beg wondered greatly when he saw Tom Beg so straight and strong, and when Tom Beg had rested and refreshed himself he told his story: how he had met the fairies who came every night to Glen Rushen to drill.
Next night Billy Beg set off along the mountain road and came at last to the green glen. About midnight he heard the trampling of horses, the lashing of whips, the barking of dogs, and a great hullabaloo, and, behold, the fairies and their king, their dogs and their horses, all at drill in the glen as Tom Beg had said.
When they saw the humpback they all stopped, and one came forward and very crossly asked his business.
"I am one of yourselves for the night, and should be glad to do you some service," said Billy Beg.
So he was set to take the password "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday." And at daybreak the king said:
"It's time for us to be off," and up came regiment after regiment giving Billy Beg the password - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Last of all came the king with his men and gave the password also - "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday," "and Sunday," says Billy Beg thinking himself clever. Then there was a great outcry.
"Get the hump that was taken off the other fellow's back last night and put it on this man's back," said the king with flashing eyes, pointing to the hump that lay under the hedge.
Before the words were well out of his mouth the hump was clapt on to Billy Beg's back.
"Now," said the king, "be off, and if ever I find you here again, I will clap another hump onto your front!"
And on that they all marched away with one great shout, and left poor Billy Beg standing where they had found him, with a hump growing on each shoulder. And he came home next day dragging one foot after another, with a wizened face and as cross as two sticks, with his two humps on his back, and if they are not off they are there still.
Once there was a poor widow who lived in a little cottage with her son Jack. She and Jack were affectionate, and thus grew poor. The widow came to see that there was no means of keeping Jack and herself from starvation but by selling her cow.
"Jack, you must take the cow to market and sell her."
Jack liked going to market. But as he was on the way, he met a butcher who had some large beans in his hand. He told the boy that they were of great value, and by that made the boy sell the cow for a handful of beans.
When Jack brought them home to his mother she shed many tears and even scolded Jack for his deal. They both went to bed very sadly that night.
At daybreak Jack rose and went out into the garden.
"At least I'll sow the wonder-beans," he thought. "I may as well sow them."
So he took a piece of stick, and made some holes in the ground, and put in the beans, knowing that for that day and the next they would have nothing for dinner.
Next day Jack got up at day-dawn and went out into the garden. And what did he see? The beans had grown up in the night, and climbed up and up till they covered the high cliff that sheltered the cottage and disappeared above it! The stalks had twined and twisted themselves together till they formed his own special ladder.
"It would be easy to climb it," thought Jack.
At once he resolved to do it, and Jack was a good climber. Still he thought he had better ask his mother for permission first.
Jack called his mother, and both saw the beanstalk was thick enough to bear Jack's weight.
"I wonder where it ends," said Jack to his mother; "I think I'll climb and see."
His mother finally yielded to his wishes.
Jack at once began to climb, and went up and up. Still he could not see the top of the beanstalk.
Jack felt a little tired, but he was a persevering boy. He climbed till he grew afraid to look down. And then he came to the top of the beanstalk - in a beautiful country with beautiful meadows covered with sheep. Not far from the place where he had got off the beanstalk there was a fine, strong castle. It stood as if it were in another land.
"I'll tell you the story of that castle," said a strange-looking woman that came towards him. She wore a pointed cap, her hair streamed loose over her shoulders, and she walked with a staff.
"Is this your house?" asked Jack politely.
"No," said the old lady. "Listen - once there was a noble knight who lived in this castle. He had a fair and considerate wife and many lovely children. His neighbours were very friendly towards him. Rumours were whispered of the treasures in the castle; and a monstrous giant who lived not far away, wanted to have them. He bribed a false servant to let him into the castle when the knight was in bed and asleep, and killed him as he lay in a sound sleep. Then the ogre went on and killed all the poor little ones.
However, the lady was not there. She had gone with her infant son to visit her old nurse in the valley; and was detained at that place all night by a storm. Next morning, one of the servants at the castle managed to escape. He told the lady of the sad fate of her husband and her pretty babes and that the giant had vowed he would kill both her and her baby if he could find them. With many tears and sobs the old nurse besought the saddened widow to bear in mind that she had still a child, and that it was her duty to keep on living for the sake of that one.
The lady yielded to this reasoning, and long years rolled on. The old nurse died, leaving her cottage and the few articles of furniture it contained to her poor lady. She lived there, and now worked as a peasant for her daily bread. Her spinning-wheel and the milk of a cow, which she had bought with the little money she had with her, sufficed all right, but they were not rich in any way. There was a nice little garden attached to the cottage. In that place they grew peas, beans, and cabbages. At harvest time the lady would glean in the fields to give her son the food he needed.
Jack, that woman is your mother. This castle was once your father's, and has to be yours."
Jack crowed of surprise.
"It is your duty to win back that castle for your mother, and the task is tricky and dangerous. You are to slay a giant to get back what is really your mother's."
What a lesson! Suddenly the woman disappeared, and from this Jack understood she was a fairy.
Jack made up his mind and straight away blew the horn that hung at the castle portal. The door swung open in a minute or two, and he came upon a huge woman who had one great eye in the middle of her forehead.
As soon as Jack saw her ugly face he turned to run, but she caught him.
"Ho, ho!" she laughed terribly. "You didn't expect to be my boy, my little lad."
She dragged Jack further into the castle. He was alarmed, but tried to be brave and make the best of things.
"I'm quite ready to help youl," said Jack.
"That's a good boy. Go into my wardrobe: my husband never ventures to open that sort of furniture. To keep you alive we need to protect you from him."
She opened a huge wardrobe in the great hall and shut him into it. The keyhole was so large that it admitted plenty of air. And he could see everything that took place through it. By-and-by he heard a heavy tramp on the stairs. It was like the lumbering along of a great cannon, and then a voice like thunder cried out as if in pain somehow;
"Wife," cried the giant, "there's a man in the castle: my breakfast!"
"It may be a nice fresh steak you smell. There, sit down and make a good breakfast," said the old woman and placed a huge dish of savoury steaming meat before him. It greatly pleased him and made him forget the idea of a man in the house. When he had had breakfast he went out for a walk.
As for Jack, he helped the ugly woman all day, but she fed him well. When evening came she put him back in the wardrobe.
The giant came in to supper. Jack watched him through the keyhole as the big one picked a wolf's bone and put half a fowl at a time into his broad mouth. When the supper was ended he bade his wife bring him his hen that laid the golden eggs.
"It lays as well as it did when it belonged to that knight," he said; "in fact, I think the eggs are heavier than ever."
The giantess went away and soon returned with a little brown hen, which she placed on the table before her husband.
"And now, my dear," she said, "I'm going for a walk, if you don't want me any longer."
"Go," said the giant; "I shall be glad to have a nap by-and-by."
Then he took up the brown hen and said to her:
"Lay!" And she laid a golden egg at once.
"Lay!" said the giant again. And she laid another.
"Lay!" he repeated the third time. And again a golden egg lay on the table.
Now Jack was sure this hen was his, one of the many things the fairy had spoken of.
In a short while the giant put the hen down on the floor, and soon after went fast asleep. He was snoring so loud that it sounded like thunder.
As soon as Jack thought the giant was fast asleep, he pushed open the door of the wardrobe and crept out. Very softly he stole across the room. Picking up the hen, he made haste to quit the apartment. He knew the way to the kitchen and found a kitchen door left ajar. So he opened it, shut and locked it after him, and flew back to the beanstalk. Then he climbed down as fast as he could.
When his mother saw him enter the house she wept for joy, for she had feared that the fairies had carried him away or that the giant had found him. But Jack put the brown hen down before her, and told her how he had been in the giant's castle, and all his adventures. Now the hen should make them rich once again.
Jack made another journey up the beanstalk to the giant's castle one day while his mother had gone to market, but first he dyed his hair and disguised himself. The old woman did not recognise him again, and dragged him in as she had done before. The lad was to help her to do the work. Then she heard her husband coming, hid the disguised Jack in the wardrobe, and bade him stay quite still there, or the giant would eat him.
Then the giant came in saying:
"Oh, sit down and I'll bring up a roasted bullock at once," said the old wife.
The giant sat down, and soon his wife brought up a roasted bullock on a large dish, and they began their supper. Jack was amazed to see them pick the bones of the bullock as if it had been a lark.
Right after the meal the giantess rose and said:
"Now, my dear, I want to go to my room and finish a story I'm reading. Do call for me if you want me."
"Ah, yes, but first bring me my money bags, that I may count my golden pieces before I sleep." answered the giant.
The giantess went and soon returned with two large bags over her shoulders, and put down the bags by her husband.
"There," she said; "that's all that's left of the knight's money. When you have spent it you must go and take another baron's castle."
When his wife was gone, the giant took out heaps and heaps of golden pieces. He counted them and put them in piles, till he was tired of the amusement. Then he swept them all back into their bags and fell asleep in his comfortable chair. He was snoring so loud that no other sound could be heard.
Jack stole softly out of the wardrobe and stole to the money that was his mother's, because the giant had grabbed them from his father. He ran off and with great difficulty climbed down the beanstalk with the heavy bags of golden pieces. At last he laid the bags of gold on his mother's table. She had just returned from town, and was crying at not finding Jack.
"There, mother, I've brought you gold that my father lost."
"Oh, Jack! you risked your precious life in the giant's castle!"
Jack told her all about it.
Jack's mother was very glad, however, she didn't like him to run any risk for her.
After a time Jack made up his mind to get into the giant's castle a third time. He climbed the beanstalk once more and blew the horn at the giant's gate. The not too bright giantess soon opened the door. She didn't know him again, but stopped a minute before she took him in. She feared another robbery, but Jack's fresh face looked so innocent. So she bade him come in, and again hid him away in the wardrobe.
By-and-by the giant came home, and as soon as he had crossed the threshold he roared out as best he could:
"I have grilled a sheep for dinner," said his wife.
His wife brought up a whole sheep for him. When he had eaten it all up, he said:
"Now bring me my harp, and I'll have a little music while you take your walk."
The giantess soon returned with a beautiful harp. The framework was all sparkling with diamonds and rubies, and the strings were all of gold.
"This is one of the nicest things I took from the knight," said the giant. "I'm extremely fond of music, and my harp is a faithful servant."
So he drew the harp towards him, and said: "Play!"
And the harp played a very soft, sad air.
"Play something merrier!" said the giant.
And the harp played a merry tune.
"Now play me a lullaby," roared the giant.
At once the harp played an amazing lullaby. And the giant fell asleep to the sound of that.
Then Jack softly stole out of the wardrobe and went into the huge kitchen to see if the giantess had gone out. He found no one there, so he went to the door and opened it softly. Then he entered the giant's room, seized the harp and ran out of the opened door with it, Away he went. But as he jumped over the threshold the harp called out:
The giant woke up. With a great roar he sprang from his seat, and in two strides reached the door.
But Jack was nimble. He fled like lightning, talking to the harp as he went, for he saw it was another fairy. He said he was the son of its old master, the knight.
Still the giant came on so fast that he was quite close to Jack, and stretched out his great hand to catch him. Right then, luckily, he stepped on a loose stone, stumbled, and fell flat on the ground. There he lay at his full length for a little while.
This happening gave Jack time to get on the beanstalk and hasten down in his way - but as he reached their own garden he saw the giant coming down after him.
"Mother!" cried Jack, "hurry and give me the axe."
His mother ran to him with a hatchet in her hand. And with one tremendous blow Jack cut through all the beanstalks except one.
"Stand out of the way!" he said.
Jack's mother shrank back just as the giant took hold of the last branch of the beanstalk. Then Jack cut the stem quite through and darted from the spot.
Down came the giant with a terrible sound. He fell on his head and broke his neck, and lay dead at the feet of the woman he had injured so much.
Then a beautiful lady stood before them.
"Jack," said she, "you have acted like a brave knight's son. Dig a grave and bury the giant. Then go and kill the giantess."
"But I couldn't kill anyone unless I were fighting with him; and hardly a woman. Besides, that giantess was really kind to me a lot of times."
The fairy smiled on Jack.
"I'm pleased with your generous feeling," she said. "But hurry on to the castle and act as you will find needful."
Jack asked the fairy if she would show him the way to the castle, for the beanstalk was down now. She told him that she would drive him there in her chariot. It was drawn by two pretty-looking birds. Jack thanked her.
The fairy drove him a long distance round, till they reached a village which lay at the bottom of the hill. Here they found a number of miserable-looking men assembled. The fairy stopped and talked to them:
"Friends and miserable-looking friends," said she, "the cruel giant who oppressed you and ate up all your flocks and herds is dead - this young gentleman has delivered you from that one. He is in fact the son and heir of your kind old master, the knight."
The men gave a loud cheer and would serve Jack as faithfully as they had served his father. The fairy bade them follow her to the castle. The old giantess saw them coming. Then she got frightened, for she guessed that something had happened to her husband. As she came downstairs very fast she caught her foot in her dress and fell from the top to the bottom and broke her neck.
The people took crowbars and forced the portal, and soon found the body of the giantess at the foot of the stairs.
Thus Jack took over the castle, with the hen and the harp. The fairy also brought his mother to him. He had the giantess buried, and sought to do right to those the giant had robbed.
Before she said farewell, the fairy explained to Jack that it was she who had sent the butcher to meet him in order to try what sort of lad he was.
If you had looked at the gigantic beanstalk and only stupidly wondered about it," she said, "I should have left you where misfortune had placed you.
But you showed an inquiring mind, willing to try new things,
She then took her leave.
Once a very rich and powerful king had been married several times. He had two daughters. The elder was was hunchbacked; but also clever and amusing, so she was her father's favourite, even though at heart she was spiteful and untruthful.
The younger princess on the other hand, was both lovely and sweet-tempered, and had pleasant manners.
The neighbouring country was governed by a young king, who, though not much over twenty years old, had shown courage in battle. Afterward he preferred peace to war, and spent his time trying to rule his own kingdom well and wisely. His people were very anxious that he should marry, and the two princesses were suitable ladies quite nearby, so the king sent envoys to their father's court to ask for one of them in marriage.
But since he wanted to marry only a woman he could love and be happy with, he set out in disguise after his ambassadors had left, and came to the old king's castle almost as soon after they did. Then he was taken by surprise by how quickly they had acted on his behalf: they had already made proposals for the elder princess. But it was the sweet face and gentle manners of the younger sister that charmed him: he would gladly have shared his throne with her also if she had been a shepherdess.
What he saw or heard during the next few days increased his love for the younger sister, and at last he confessed that his dearest wish was to make her his wife, if she and her father would grant his desire. Therefore he bade his ambassadors propose in his name for the younger princess.
On hearing this news, the old king became displeased. He sent for the elder princess and told her that the young king had chosen her sister. The king and his eldest daughter then decided to send the younger daughter to some lonely castle called the Desert Tower.
Meantime, the court gaieties went on as usual. The young king and the young princess were eagerly counting the hours to meet again. But when the king got to the place they had agreed to meet one another, she was not there.
He waited and waited, but no princess arrived. When a hunt began he declined to follow, and spent the whole day seeking her in vain until one of his attendants told him that some hours earlier he had seen how the princess had been escorted by a troop of soldiers to the Desert Tower. The young king was deeply grieved by this news. He declared war the very next day if the old king would not set free the princess.
As soon as he reached his own country he raised a large army. With his troops he seized the frontier towns before his enemy had had time to collect any troops.
In the Desert Tower, the imprisoned and guarded princess was not even allowed to put her head out of the window and look on a plot of brambles. A former nurse watched her slightest movement.
One day, however, the prisoner had a chance to lean out of the window. As she did she noticed a man hidden among the bushes. He stepped forward as soon as he caught sight of her, and showed her a letter. She recognised him as one of the young king's attendants, understood he had been sent there by him, and let down a long string. He tied the letter to it. She drew it up quickly, and had just time to read it before her nurse or keeper entered the room.
The princess managed to write an answer on a sheet of her notebook and to throw it down to the officer attendant the next day. He hastened to carry it back to his master. The king was happy at having news of his dear princess, and wanted to see her himself. In a letter he sent her, he enclosed a sleeping powder and instructions on how to use it. The princess managed to mix the powder with the supper of her keeper, and when the king reached the tower in the evening the princess came boldly to the window on hearing his signal. They talked together for long, but the old nurse had seen and heard all even though she was sedated and they thought she was asleep. Now the old nurse sent a message about what was going on to the other sister.
The news made the hunchback sister furious. She ordered her nurse to pretend not to notice what might be passing, and meantime she had a trap made so that if the king pushed his way through the brambles at the foot of the tower, it would not only catch him, as if he were a mouse, but would let loose at him a number of poisoned arrows. The trap was hidden among the brambles, and the princess in the tower did not know a thing about it.
The young king was hit by a few of the arrows when he came to speak with his sweetheart, and fell to the ground covered with blood. His faithful squire was at hand, and carried his master off to the wood. There the rest of his escort were waiting for him. His wounds were bound up, and some poles were cut to make a rough litter. Almost unconscious, the king was borne away out of his enemy's country to his own castle.
A fortnight passed, and the princess did not hear anything from her prince. She grew thin and weak with the uncertainty. One morning the old nurse carelessly left the key in the door in her own room when she entered it. The princess quickly and quietly locked the door after her. Now the roles were reversed: the nurse was locked ut, and the princess was free to flee.
Near the tower were arrows lying about among bloodstained brambles. She ran past them and begged a man she knew and met, to get her some men's clothes. He headed at once for the nearest town. There he found a shop where the court lackeys were accustomed to sell their masters' cast-off clothes. The princess dressed herself at once in the clothes he brought. They were of rich satin and looked fine. She put her own garments into a bag, and the man hung them over his shoulders. Then they went on together. He was happy to serve his princess.
They walked by day as far as the princess could manage, and by night they slept in the open air. One evening they camped in a lovely valley. Towards morning the princess was awakened by a charming voice from thicket of myrtles. She found a little boy there.
"Are you surprised?" he asked, with a smile. Then he gave her a little bottle full of a wonderful salve to dress the king's wounds with when she found him.
"In two days you can reach his castle and marry," he said. "But hurry."
The princess thanked the boy with tears in her eyes, and set off at once with her serving-man.
After two days they came to the capital of the king she loved, only to hear he was close to death. "I should be able to cure him," she told the guards, and was let in.
While all was being made ready the princess was taken to the room of the mortally wounded king. He was lying with his eyes closed. She now insisted that everyone should leave the room except the king's favourite attendant. He then dressed the wounds with the magic salve. It relieved the king's pain so well that he slept soundly all that night.
When morning broke, the courtiers and doctors hurried to the king's chamber and were much surprised to find him free of pain. The princess, still disguised as a man, ordered them out and renewed the dressings. The next morning the king was nearly well and able to leave his bed.
As he grew stronger, the face and voice of his new doctor reminded him of the princess, but he had got the wrong idea that she had betrayed him. His eyes filled with tears.
The doctor made him talk about what grieved him. Then he told of a lady who had tricked him into a trap. All the same, he could not help loving her. The satin-clothed healer listened with sympathy and tried to tell him that the princess he loved, might not be so much to blame as it might appear.
At length a day came when the king was nearly well, and for the last time the doctor dressed the wounds with the precious salve. Then, both patient and surgeon, being wearied out with something they could not explain, fell asleep and slept for hours.
Early next morning, the princess, having decided to resume her own clothes which she had brought with her in a bag, dressed herself with great care and put on all her jewels so as to make herself look as lovely as possible as she drew aside the curtains in his chamber.
For some minutes he gazed at her, unable to speak, and then he gasped of joy and thankfulness. By-and-by the princess told him of what had happened since they last talked with each other when she was imprisoned in the tower..
In good time the king opened his door to the attendants that were waiting outside.
"You might do homage to my future queen too, and not only me," said the king. He wished to have the marriage celebrated the same day, but the princess wanted her father's permission first.
Messengers were therefore sent to the neighbouring capital, and soon returned with the old king's consent. He had lately discovered all the harm done by his elder daughter. She became so furious that her plans had failed that she died of stroke in a fit. No one grieved for her. The old king gave up his crown to his younger daughter, so that the two kingdoms from now on became one.