CELTIC FAIRY TALES
Jack and His Master
poor woman had
three sons. The eldest and second eldest were cunning clever fellows, but they
called the youngest Jack the Fool, because they thought he was no better than a
simpleton. The eldest got tired of staying at home, and said he'd go look for
service. He stayed away a whole year, and then came back one day, dragging one
foot after the other, and a poor wizened face on him, and he as cross as two
sticks. When he was rested and got something to eat, he told them how he got
service with the Gray Churl of the Townland of Mischance, and that the agreement
was, whoever would first say he was sorry for his bargain, should get an inch
wide of the skin of his back, from shoulder to hips, taken off. If it was
the master, he should also pay double wages; if it was the servant, he should
get no wages at all. "But the thief," says he, "gave me so little
to eat, and kept me so hard at work, that flesh and blood couldn't stand it; and
when he asked me once, when I was in a passion, if I was sorry for my bargain, I
was mad enough to say I was, and here I am disabled for life."
Vexed enough were the poor mother and brothers; and the second eldest said on
the spot he'd go and take service with the Gray Churl, and punish him by all the
annoyance he'd give him till he'd make him say he was sorry for his agreement.
"Oh, won't I be glad to see the skin coming off the old villain's
back!" said he. All they could say had no effect: he started off for the
Townland of Mischance, and in a twelvemonth he was back just as miserable and
helpless as his brother.
All the poor mother could say didn't prevent Jack the Fool from starting to
see if he was able to regulate the Gray Churl. He agreed with him for a year for
twenty pounds, and the terms were the same.
"Now, Jack," said the Gray Churl, "if you refuse to do
anything you are able to do, you must lose a month's wages."
"I'm satisfied," said Jack; "and if you stop me from doing a
thing after telling me to do it, you are to give me an additional month's
"I am satisfied," says the master.
"Or if you blame me for obeying your orders, you must give the
"I am satisfied," said the master again.
The first day that Jack served he was fed very poorly, and was worked to the
saddleskirts. Next day he came in just before the dinner was sent up to the
parlour. They were taking the goose off the spit, but well becomes Jack he whips
a knife off the dresser, and cuts off one side of the breast, one leg and thigh,
and one wing, and fell to. In came the master, and began to abuse him for his
assurance. "Oh, you know, master, you're to feed me, and wherever
the goose goes won't have to be filled again till supper. Are you sorry for
The master was going to cry out he was, but he bethought himself in time.
"Oh no, not at all," said he.
"That's well," said Jack.
Next day Jack was to go clamp turf on the bog. They weren't sorry to have him
away from the kitchen at dinner time. He didn't find his breakfast very heavy on
his stomach; so he said to the mistress, "I think, ma'am, it will be better
for me to get my dinner now, and not lose time coming home from the bog."
"That's true, Jack," said she. So she brought out a good cake, and
a print of butter, and a bottle of milk, thinking he'd take them away to the
bog. But Jack kept his seat, and never drew rein till bread, butter, and milk
went down the red lane.
"Now, mistress," said he, " I'll be earlier at my work
to-morrow if I sleep comfortably on the sheltery side of a pile of dry peat on
dry grass, and not be coming here and going back. So you may as well give me my
supper, and be done with the day's trouble." She gave him that, thinking
he'd take it to the bog; but he fell to on the spot, and did not leave a scrap
to tell tales on him; and the mistress was a little astonished.
He called to speak to the master in the haggard, and said he, "What are
servants asked to do in this country after aten their supper?"
"Nothing at all, but to go to bed."
"Oh, very well, sir." He went up on the stable-loft, stripped, and
lay down, and some one that saw him told the master. He came up.
"Jack, you anointed scoundrel, what do you mean?"
"To go to sleep, master. The mistress, God bless her, is after giving me
my breakfast, dinner, and supper, and yourself told me that bed was the next
thing. Do you blame me, sir?"
"Yes, you rascal, I do."
"Hand me out one pound thirteen and fourpence, if you please, sir."
"One divel and thirteen imps, you tinker! what for?"
"Oh, I see, you've forgot your bargain. Are you sorry for it?"
"Oh, ya--NO, I mean. I'll give you the money after your nap."
Next morning early, Jack asked how he'd be employed that day. "You are
to be holding the plough in that fallow, outside the paddock." The master
went over about nine o'clock to see what kind of a ploughman was Jack, and what
did he see but the little boy driving the bastes, and the sock and coulter of
the plough skimming along the sod, and Jack pulling ding-dong again' the horses.
"What are you doing, you contrary thief?" said the master.
"An' ain't I strivin' to hold this divel of a plough, as you told me;
but that ounkrawn of a boy keeps whipping on the bastes in spite of all I say;
will you speak to him?"
"No, but I'll speak to you. Didn't you know, you bosthoon, that when I
said 'holding the plough,' I meant reddening the ground."
"Faith, an' if you did, I wish you had said so. Do you blame me for what
I have done?"
The master caught himself in time, but he was so stomached, he said nothing.
"Go on and redden the ground now, you knave, as other ploughmen
"An' are you sorry for our agreement?"
"Oh, not at all, not at all!"
Jack ploughed away like a good workman all the rest of the day.
In a day or two the master bade him go and mind the cows in a field that had
half of it under young corn. "Be sure, particularly," said he,
"to keep Browney from the wheat; while she's out of mischief there's no
fear of the rest."
About noon, he went to see how Jack was doing his duty, and what did he find
but Jack asleep with his face to the sod, Browney grazing near a thorn-tree, one
end of a long rope round her horns, and the other end round the tree, and the
rest of the beasts all trampling and eating the green wheat. Down came the
switch on Jack.
"Jack, you vagabone, do you see what the cows are at?"
"And do you blame, master?"
"To be sure, you lazy sluggard, I do?"
"Hand me out one pound thirteen and fourpence, master. You said if I
only kept Browney out of mischief, the rest would do no harm. There she is as
harmless as a lamb. Are you sorry for hiring me, master?"
"To be--that is, not at all. I'll give you your money when you go to
dinner. Now, understand me; don't let a cow go out of the field nor into the
wheat the rest of the day."
"Never fear, master!" and neither did he. But the
churl would rather than a great deal he had not hired him.
The next day three
heifers were missing, and the master bade Jack go in search of them.
"Where will I look for them?" said Jack.
"Oh, every place likely and unlikely for them all to be in."
The churl was getting very exact in his words. When he was coming into the
bawn at dinner-time, what work did he find Jack at but pulling armfuls of the
thatch off the roof, and peeping into the holes he was making?
"What are you doing there, you rascal?"
"Sure, I'm looking for the heifers, poor things!"
"What would bring them there?"
think anything could bring them in it; but I looked first into the likely
places, that is, the cow-houses, and the pastures, and the fields next 'em, and
now I'm looking in the unlikeliest place I can think of. Maybe it's not pleasing
to you it is."
"And to be sure it isn't pleasing to me, you aggravating
"Please, sir, hand me one pound thirteen and four pence before you sit
down to your dinner. I'm afraid it's sorrow that's on you for hiring me at
"May the div--oh no; I'm not sorry. Will you begin, if you please, and
put in the thatch again, just as if you were doing it for your mother's
"Oh, faith I will, sir, with a heart and a half;" and by the time
the farmer came out from his dinner, Jack had the roof better than it was
before, for he made the boy give him new straw.
Says the master when he came out, "Go, Jack, and look for the heifers,
and bring them home."
"And where will I look for 'em?"
"Go and search for them as if they were your own. The heifers were all
in the paddock before sunset.
Next morning, says the master, "Jack, the path across the bog to the
pasture is very bad; the sheep does be sinking in it every step; go and make the
sheep's feet a good path." About an hour after he came to the edge of the
bog, and what did he find Jack at but sharpening a carving knife, and the sheep
standing or grazing round.
"Is this the way you are mending the path, Jack?" said he.
"Everything must have a beginning, master," said Jack, "and a
thing well begun is half done. I am sharpening the knife, and I'll have the feet
off every sheep in the flock while you'd be blessing yourself."
"Feet off my sheep, you anointed rogue! and what would you be taking
their feet off for?"
"An' sure to mend the path as you told me. Says you, 'Jack, make a path
with the foot of the sheep.'"
"Oh, you fool, I meant make good the path for the sheep's feet."
"It's a pity you didn't say so, master. Hand me out
one pound thirteen and fourpence if you don't like me to finish my job."
"Divel do you good with your one pound thirteen and fourpence!"
"It's better pray than curse, master. Maybe you re sorry for your
"And to be sure I am--not yet, any way."
The next night the master was going to a wedding; and says he to Jack, before
he set out: "I'll leave at midnight; and I wish you to come and be with me
home, for fear I might be overtaken with the drink. If you're there before, you
may throw a sheep's eye at me, and I'll be sure to see that they'll give you
something for yourself."
About eleven o'clock, while the master was in great spirits, he felt
something clammy hit him on the cheek. It fell beside his tumbler, and when he
looked at it what was it but the eye of a sheep. Well, he couldn't imagine who
threw it at him, or why it was thrown at him. After a little he got a blow on
the other cheek, and still it was by another sheep's eye. Well, he was very
vexed, but he thought better to say nothing. In two minutes more, when he was
opening his mouth to take a sup, another sheep's eye was slapped into it. He
sputtered it out, and cried, "Man o' the house, isn't it a great shame for
you to have any one in the room that would do such a nasty thing?"
"Master," says Jack, "don't blame the honest man. Sure it's
only myself that was throwin' them sheep's eyes at you, to remind you I was
here, and that I wanted to drink the bride and bridegroom's health. You know
yourself bade me."
"I know that you are a great rascal; and where did you get the
"An' where would I get em' but in the heads of your own sheep? Would you
have me meddle with the bastes of any neighbour, who might put me in the Stone
Jug for it?"
"Sorrow on me that ever I had the bad luck to meet with you."
"You're all witness," said Jack, "that my master says he is
sorry for having met with me. My time is up. Master, hand me over double wages,
and come into the next room, and lay yourself out like a man that has some
decency in him, till I take a strip of skin an inch broad from your shoulder to
Every one shouted out against that; but, says Jack, "You didn't hinder
him when he took the same strips from the backs of my two brothers, and sent
them home in that state, and penniless, to their poor mother."
When the company heard the rights of the business, they were only too eager
to see the job done. The master bawled and roared, but there was no help at
hand. He was stripped to his hips, and laid on the floor in the next room, and
Jack had the carving knife in his hand ready to begin.
"Now you cruel old villain," said he, giving the knife a couple of
scrapes along the floor, "I'll make you an offer. Give me, along with my
double wages, two hundred guineas to support my poor brothers, and I'll do
without the strap."
"No!" said he, "I'd let you skin me from head to foot
"Here goes then," said Jack with a grin, but the first little scar
he gave, Churl roared out. " Stop your hand; I'll give the money."
"Now, neighbours," said Jack, "you mustn't think worse of me
than I deserve. I wouldn't have the heart to take an eye out of a rat itself; I
got half a dozen of them from the butcher, and only used three of them."
So all came again into the other room, and Jack was made sit down, and
everybody drank his health, and he drank everybody's health at one offer. And
six stout fellows saw himself and the master home, and waited in the parlour
while he went up and brought down the two hundred guineas, and double wages for
Jack himself. When he got home, he brought the summer along with him to the poor
mother and the disabled brothers; and he was no more Jack the Fool in the
people's mouths, but "Skin Churl Jack."