Tuesday, 4 August 2009
There was a woman who had a son. She also had two horses, two cows and six chickens, oh and a cat. The son was no help to her whatsoever. He scattered the chicken feed all over the garden so that the chickens must scratch up the flowerbeds and the vegetables to eat. He would go to milk the cows and forget what he had gone for. He would not clean out the stables, so that his mother must do it all. He was known locally as Lazy Jack for his laziness and stupidity. He tested even his mother's love to the very limits.
One day she gave him a large board and told him to paint a sign telling people that the two horses were for sale. They were a little too much for her and she thought to sell them and use the money to buy two sheep. At least from them she might gain some wool. Lazy Jack was so far in his dreamy head that he painted the sign saying that the two cows were for sale. A tall blonde woman came and seeing the handsome cows bought them off Jack and led them away. When Jack gave his mother the money and told her that the cows had sold straight away she was furious.
"Take the money and go and get our cows back you idle good for nothing!" she shouted at him.
Jack sighed and thought of asking if she couldn't do it instead, but she threw a saucepan at him and glared at him, so off he went. Now Jack did not know where the woman had gone, but he knew that cows eat grass and the best grass was in the Sweet Meadows beyond the little village where he lived. Off he went then to the meadow and sure enough, there were the cows standing among a herd of the finest cows he had ever seen. Their tails were long and fine, their horns were curved like crescent moons and their hides were brown and white.
Right there, on a hillock sat the beautiful woman with her face to the herd. Now as Jack got a little nearer he saw that she had hooves instead of feet peeking from below the hem of her dress and he got a little nervous. The woman was not a woman at all, but a huldre, one of the faerie folk. Now whatever Jack did not know, he did know not to be rude to a faerie. They are quick to take offence and his punishment might possibly last for the rest of his life. But he had to get his mother's cows back or she would likely also punish him for the rest of his life!
So very carefully, he approached her and bowed to her. Instantly the huldre knew why he had come, but she let him tell her anyway.
"Please miss", Jack began, "I should have sold our two horses instead of the cows and my mother is very cross with me. But if you will let us have our cows back we shall give you the money you paid for them."
The huldre laughed at that. She liked the cows very much and did not wish to part with them, but she made a deal with Jack. He would work for her and she would think about giving him the cows back. Now Jack was not happy with that thought but what could he do?
Nothing, that's what. So he sighed and agreed. The huldre gave him six beans and told him to plant them by the hillock and watch them.
"Tend them well Jack, for they are magic beans and very important. Do everything to keep them happy," she said.
Well, thought Jack, how hard can that be? I'll plant them and water them and they will be fine. So he took the beans and planted them by the hillock there and then. He was about to sit beside the huldre and talk to her, when suddenly the beans began to sprout. They grew up a little and Jack ran off to get some sticks so that the beans could have some support. He came back breathless for he was unused to the work. He bound the stems loosely to the sticks and was about to sit down when the beans grew a little more and formed little beans. One of these beans opened and a small green child demanded to be fed oatcakes and cream. Off Jack went and came back with oatcakes and cream, but now all the little beanstalks had formed beans and in every bean was a little green child demanding to be fed.
Now they wanted the ground to be swept around the stalks so that pests wouldn't eat the beanstalks. They wanted their oatcakes cooked just so. They wanted honey as well as cream. They wanted him to sing to them. So Jack ran about dashing from one chore to the other when the huldre told him to feed the cattle and then to clean up after them as well!!
"How long must I work like this?" Jack complained.
"Oh," said the huldre, "Only for about a year or so, not long."
Jack groaned and continued to wait hand and foot upon the bean children. The beanstalks shot up quickly until the bean children ripened and fell which meant that Jack must run around and catch them all so that they did not hurt themselves. Now they were hungrier than ever and he was forever making more food for them. Then he would have to weave cloth and make their clothes and sing to them while they ate and serve them. The huldre made him do this for a year and truth to tell, his mother did not miss him. After all he did nothing to help her when he was at home so why would she miss him?
When the year was up the huldre returned to the hillock in the meadow and whistled. Suddenly all the green bean children turned into fine cows and the huldre gave Jack his cows back along with a small pot, tightly covered up.
"Give this pot to your mother Jack and look after the cows," she told him.
Jack bowed and thanked her before returning home. He was a different man from that day forwards. The cows had thrived under the huldre's care. They gave the finest milk for miles and Jack took care of them as well as the horses and chickens. Inside the pot, Jack's mother found a lot of gold coins. With these she bought a pair of sheep, a spinning wheel and a loom. From that day on Jack and his mother never went hungry. Jack took care of the animals and his mother would spin and weave the wool they got from the sheep. Never again was her son known as Lazy Jack and his mother took a large pot of cream out to the Sweet Meadow the day after her son had come home and gave it to the huldre in thanks for the change she had wrought in Jack.