IN the reign of King Arthur there lived in the County of Cornwall a worthy farmer, who had an only son, named Jack. Jack was strong and brave and very daring, and was never backward when danger was in the way.
Now, in those days there lived a huge giant in a gloomy cavern on St. Michael’s Mount, which rises out of the sea near the shores of Cornwall. The Cornish people had suffered greatly from his thefts and pillaging; for he used to wade through the sea to the mainland, and carry off half a dozen or more of their oxen at a time.
At last Jack made up his mind to destroy this monster. He took a horn, a shovel, a pickaxe, and a dark lantern, and one winter’s evening swam over the sea to the Mount. Then he set to work, and before morning had dug a great pit. He covered it carefully over with sticks and straw, and strewed some earth on the top to make it look like solid ground. And then he blew his horn so loudly that the Giant awoke, and came out roaring like thunder:
“You impudent villain—you shall pay dearly for disturbing my rest. I will broil you for my breakfast!”
But almost as he spoke, he tumbled headlong into the pit.
“Oh, ho, Mr. Giant!” said Jack. “How is your appetite now! Will nothing serve you for breakfast but broiling poor Jack?” Then he struck the giant such a blow on the head with a pickaxe that he killed him.
When the Justices of Cornwall heard of this valiant deed, they sent for Jack, and declared that he should always be called Jack the Giant Killer; and they gave him a sword, and a belt upon which was written, in letters of gold:
“This is the valiant Cornishman
Who slew the giant Cormoran.”
There was another giant in England called Blunderbore, who vowed to take revenge on Jack for this exploit. One day, as Jack was passing through a wood on a journey to Wales, he fell asleep by the side of a fountain. The Giant, coming along, found him there; and, seeing by the writing on the belt who Jack was, he lifted him on his shoulder and carried him off to his castle.
When Jack awoke and found himself in the clutches of Blunderbore he was terribly frightened. The giant carried him into a room and locked him up, while he went to fetch another giant who lived close by to help him eat Jack fordinner. While he was gone, Jack heard dreadful shrieks and groans from different parts of the castle, and soon after he heard a mournful voice saying:
“Haste, valiant stranger, haste away,
Lest you become the giant’s prey.
On his return he’ll bring another,
Still more savage than his brother;
A horrid, cruel monster, who
Before he kills will torture you!”
Poor Jack looked out of the window, which was just over the gate of the castle, and saw two giants coming along arm in arm.
“Now,” thought he, “death or freedom is at hand.” There happened to be two strong cords in the room, and Jack made a large noose with a slip-knot in each of them. Then, just as the giants were coming through the gate he threw the ropes over their heads, and, fastening the other ends to a beam in the ceiling, he pulled the ropes with all his might until he had nearly strangled the giants. Then he drew his sword and slipped down the ropes and killed them both.
Next Jack took the keys from Giant Blunderbore and searched through the castle. In one of the rooms he found three ladies who told him that their husbands had been killed by the giant, who had afterwards condemned them to be starved to death.
Jack gave them the castle and all the riches it contained to make some amends for the dreadful pains they had suffered, and then went on his way.
After traveling some days, he lost himself in a lonely valley; but, when he had wandered about some while, he at length succeeded in finding a large house. He went up to it and knocked loudly at the gate, when, to his great horror, a monstrous giant with two heads came forth. He spoke very civilly, however, and took Jack into the house, leading him to a room where there was a good bed, in which he could pass the night.
Jack took off his clothes; but, though he was very tired, he could not go to sleep. Presently he heard the giant walking about in the bedchamber, which was the next room, saying to himself:
“Though here you lodge with me this night;
You shall not see the morning light;
My club shall dash your brains out quite.”
When he heard this, Jack got out of bed, and, taking a large, thick piece of wood, he laid it in his own place in the bed, and hid himself in a dark corner of the room.
In the middle of the night, the giant came with his great club, and struck several heavy blows upon the bed. Then he went off, thinking he had broken all Jack’s bones.
“Oh, dear me! Is it you? Pray, how did you sleep last night? Did you hear or see anything to disturb you?”
“Nothing worth speaking of, thank you,” answered Jack, carelessly. “A rat, I believe, gave me three or four slaps with his tail; but that was all.”
The giant said nothing; but went and fetched two bowls of hasty pudding for their breakfast.
Jack did not wish the giant to think that he could not eat as much as himself, so he contrived to fasten a leathern bag inside his coat. He then managed to slip the pudding into this bag, while pretending to eat it. When breakfast was done, he said to the giant:
“Now I will show you a fine trick. I can cure all wounds with a touch. You shall see an example.” He then took a knife, ripped up the leathern bag, and all the hasty pudding tumbled out upon the floor.
“Ods splutter hur nails!” cried the giant, who was ashamed to be outdone by such a little fellow. “Hur can do that hurself!” and, snatching up the knife, he plunged it into his stomach and fell down dead.
After this, Jack went farther on his journey. In a few days he met King Arthur’s only son, who was traveling into Wales to deliver a beautiful lady from the power of a wicked magician. Jack attached himself to the Prince, and they traveled on together.
The Prince was very generous, and soon gave away all the money he possessed.
“Sir,” said Jack, “two miles farther on there lives a giant with three heads, who can fight five hundred men at once and make them fly. I will go on and visit him—do you wait here until I return.”
Jack rode on to the gates of the castle, and gave a loud knock. The giant, with a voice like thunder, roared out:
“Who is there?”
“No one but your poor Cousin Jack.”
“Well, what news, Cousin Jack?”
“Dear Uncle, I have bad news for you. Here is the King’s son coming with two thousand men to kill you!”
So Jack locked, bolted and barred the giant in the cellar, and then went back and fetched the Prince, and they feasted and made merry, and spent the night very comfortably in the castle.
In the morning Jack gave the Prince gold and silver from the giant’s treasury. Then the Prince set forth on his journey, while Jack let the giant out of the cellar.
The giant thanked Jack very much for saving him, and asked what he should give him as a reward?
“Take them,” said the giant, “and keep them for my sake. They will be very useful to you. The coat will make you invisible; the cap will give you knowledge; the sword will cut through anything, no matter what it may be, and the shoes are of vast swiftness.”
Jack took the gifts, thanked the giant, and then quickly caught up with the Prince.
After a few day’s further journey they reached the dwelling of the beautiful lady whom the Prince had come to rescue.
She received the Prince very graciously and made a feast for him. When it was ended she rose, and, taking her handkerchief, said:
“My lord; to-morrow morning I command you to tell me on whom I have bestowed this handkerchief—or else lose your head.”
The Prince went to bed very mournfully; but Jack put on the cap of knowledge, which told him that the lady was forced by the power of enchantment to meet the wicked magician every night in the forest.
He, therefore, put on his coat of darkness, and his shoes of swiftness, and was there before her. When the lady came, she gave the handkerchief to the magician. Jack with his sword of sharpness cut off his head with one blow; and the enchantment was ended in a minute.
The next day the lady was married to the Prince, and soon after went with her husband to the Court of King Arthur, where Jack was made one of the Knights of the Round Table for his heroism.
Very soon Jack set off in search of new adventures. On the third day of his travel he came to a wide forest. Hardly had he entered it when he heard dreadful shrieks and cries, and soon he saw a monstrous giant dragging along by the hair of their heads a handsome knight and a beautiful lady. Their tears and cries melted Jack’s heart. He alighted from his horse, and put on his invisible coat, and immediately attacked the giant. He could not reach up to the giant’s body; so, taking a mighty blow, he cut off both the monster’s legs just below the garter, so that he fell full length upon the ground. Then Jack set his foot upon his neck and plunged his sword into the giant’s body.
The knight and the lady, overjoyed, begged Jack to come to their house to refresh himself after this fight; but Jack, hearing that the giant had a brother who was more cruel and wicked even than himself, would not rest until he had also destroyed him.
Soon he came in sight of the cavern where the giants lived. There was the other giant sitting on a huge block of timber, with a knotted iron club lying by his side. Jack, in his coat of darkness, was quite invisible. He drew close up to the giant and struck a blow at his head with his sword of sharpness; but he missed his aim and only cut off his nose. The giant roared with pain, and his roars were like claps of thunder. He took up his iron club and began to lay about him, but not being able to see Jack, he could not hit him; for Jack slipped nimbly behind, and jumping upon the block of wood, stabbed the giant in the back; and after a few howls, the monster dropped down dead.
Having thus killed the two monsters Jack entered the cave to search for the treasure. One room contained a great boiling cauldron and a dining table, where the giants feasted. Another part of the cave was barred with iron and was full of miserable men and women whom the giants had imprisoned. Jack set them all free and divided the treasure among them.
Jack cut off the giant’s head, and sent it with the head of his brother to the Court of King Arthur; then he returned to the house of the knight and his lady.
He was received with the greatest joy; and the knight gave a grand feast in his honor. When all the company was gathered together, the knight presented Jack with a ring, on which was engraved the picture of the giant dragging the knight and the lady by the hair, with this motto round it—
“Behold, in dire distress were we,
Under a giant’s fierce command,
But gained our lives and liberty
From valiant Jack’s victorious hand.”
But while the merriment was at its height, a herald rushed into the room and told the company that Thundel, a savage giant with two heads, had heard of the death of his two kinsmen, and was come to take his revenge on Jack. The guests trembled with terror and fright; but Jack only drew his sword and said, “Let him come!”
The knight’s house was surrounded by a moat over which there was a drawbridge. Jack set men to work to cut the bridge on both sides, nearly to the middle, and then, dressed in his magic coat, went out to meet the giant. As the giant came along, although he could not see Jack, yet he could tell that someone was near for he cried out:
“Fa, fe, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”
“Say you so, my friend,” cried Jack. “You are indeed a monstrous miller!”
“Ah!” cried the giant; “you are the villain that killed my kinsmen! I will tear you with my teeth, and grind your bones to powder!”
“You must catch me first!” said Jack. Then he threw off his coat and put on his shoes of swiftness, and began to run, the giant following him like a walking castle. Jack led him round and round the house, and then he ran over the drawbridge, while the giant rushed after him with his club. But when he came to the middle of the bridge, where it had been cut on both sides, his great weight broke it, and he tumbled into the water.
Once again, Jack set out in search of new adventures. He went over fields and dales without meeting with any, until he came to the foot of a high mountain. Here was a little, lonely house; and when he knocked at the door it was opened by an old man with a beard as white as snow. This old man was a good hermit, and when Jack had eaten well, he said:
“My son, I know that you are the famous conqueror of giants. I know, at the top of this mountain there is an enchanted castle, kept by a giant named Galligantes, who, by the help of a magician, gets many knights into his power—whom he changes into beasts. Above all, I lament the hard fate of a duke’s daughter, whom they have changed into a deer. Many knights have tried to destroy the enchantment, yet none have been able to do so, because of two fiery griffins who guard the gates of the castle. But as you, my son, have an invisible coat, you may pass them by without being seen. On the gates of the castle you will find engraved the means by which the enchantment may be broken.”
Jack promised that in the morning he would risk his life in an endeavor to break the enchantment; and, after a sound sleep, he arose early and set out on his attempt.
On the castle gate he found a golden trumpet hanging, under which were written these words—
“Whoever can this trumpet blow,
Shall cause the giant’s overthrow.”
Jack seized the golden trumpet and blew a mighty blast, which made the gates fly open and shook the castle to its foundations. The giant and the magician, knowing that their end was now near, stood biting their thumbs and shaking with terror. Jack, with his magic sword, soon killed the giant, and the magician was carried off by a whirlwind. The castle vanished away like smoke, and the duke’s daughter and all the knights and lovely ladies who had been turned into birds and beasts returned to their proper shape.
Jack’s fame rang through the whole country, and the King gave him a large estate to reward him for all his brave and knightly deeds. And Jack married the duke’s daughter, and lived in joy and contentment for the rest of his days.