THERE was once, I do not know where, in the world an old man who had twelve sons; the eldest of whom served the king for twenty-four years. One day the old man took it into his head that all his sons should get married, and they all were willing to comply with their father's wish, with the exception of the eldest son, who could not on any account be coaxed into matrimony. However the old man would not give in, and said, "Do you hear me, my son? the eldest of you must marry at the same time as the youngest; I want you all to get married at the same time."
So the old man had a pair of boots made for himself with iron soles and went in search of wives for his twelve sons. He wandered hither and thither over several countries until the iron soles of his boots were worn into holes; at last, however, he found at a house twelve girls, who, he thought, would do.
The eleven younger lads made great preparations and went to the fair to buy themselves saddle-horses; but the eldest, who was serving the king, did not concern himself about anything, and turned out the king's horses to grass as usual. Among the animals there was a mare with a foal, and Jack--this was the name of the eldest lad--always bestowed the greatest care upon the mare. One day, as the whole stud were grazing in the fields, the mare neighed and said to the lad, "I say, Jack, I hear that you are thinking of getting married; your eleven brothers have already gone to the fair to purchase riding-horses for the wedding; they are buying the finest animals they can get; but don't you go and purchase anything: there is a foal of mine that was foaled last year, go and beg the king to let you have it, you will have no cause to repent your choice. The king will try to palm off some other animal on you, but don't you take it. Choose the foal as I tell you."
So it happened Jack went up stairs and saw the king and spoke to him thus: "Most gracious Majesty! I have now served you for twenty-four years and should like to leave this place, because my eleven brothers are already on their way to get themselves wives; the tips of my moustache too reach already to my ears, the days fly fast, and it is high time for me to find a wife too; I should be much obliged if you would pay me my wages." "You are perfectly right, my dear son, Jack," replied the king, "it is high time that you too get married; and, as you have so faithfully served me, I will give orders for your wedding to be celebrated with the greatest pomp. Let me know your wishes! would you like to have so much silver as you can carry, or would you prefer as much gold?" "Most gracious Majesty, I have only one desire, and that is to be allowed to take with me from your stud a certain foal that belongs to a certain mare that is with foal again this year." "Surely you don't want to make an exhibition of yourself on that wretched creature?" "Aye, but I do, your Majesty, and I do not want anything else."
Our Jack was still fast asleep when his eleven brothers set out on the finest horses to fetch their girls. Jack did not get up till noon, at which hour the king ordered out a coach and six, together with a couple of outriders, and thus addressed the lad: "Well, Jack, my boy, I have no objection, you can take your foal, but don't reproach me hereafter." Jack thereupon had plenty to eat and drink, and even took out a bucketful of wine to his foal and made it drink the whole. He then took his goods and chattels and sat in the coach, but the king would not allow the foal to run along with the coach, and said: "Not that way, if I know it; put the ugly creature up on the box! I should feel ashamed if anybody saw the ugly brute running alongside my coach." So the foal was tied up to the box, and they set off till they reached the outskirts of the town. By this time the foal, which was in a most uncomfortable position, presented a most pitiful sight; for by rubbing against the box the whole of one of its sides had become raw. So they stopped, and it was taken down and placed on the ground. Jack got out, and, the coach having set out for home, he sat on the foal's back, his feet touching the ground. The foal gazed round to see whether anybody was looking on, and, not seeing a soul, it flew up high into the air and thus addressed the lad: "Well, my dear master, at what speed shall we proceed? Shall we go like the hurricane or like a flash of thought?" "As quick as you can, my dear horse," was his reply.
They flew along for a while, when the foal again spoke, asking: "Is your hat tied on, my dear master?"
"Yes, it is, my dear horse."
Again they flew along, and again the little foal said: "Well, my dear master, your hat that you have bought for your wedding is gone. You have lost it. We have left it some seven miles behind, but we will go back to fetch it; nobody has as yet picked it up." So they returned and picked up the hat, and the little foal again flew high up into the air. After proceeding for three hours they reached the inn where his brothers had decided to take up their night's lodgings. The other lads had started at dawn, he not till noon, after his midday meal, and still he left them behind. Having got within a short distance of the inn, the foal alighted on the ground with Jack, and addressed him in these words: "Well, my dear master, get off here and turn me out on to that heap of rubbish and weeds yonder, then walk into the inn and have plenty to eat and drink; your eleven younger brothers will also arrive here shortly." So Jack entered the inn, ordered a bottle of wine, made a hearty meal, and enjoyed himself heartily. He took out a bucketful of wine to his foal and gave it to drink; time passed on ... when, at last his brothers arrived. They were still at some distance when the youngest caught sight of the foal, and exclaimed: "Oh, look at that miserable screw! Surely it is our eldest brother's steed." "So it is! So it is!" exclaimed all the others, but at the same time they all stared at each other, and could not explain how it came to pass that, although they had started much earlier than their brother, they had been outdistanced by him, notwithstanding the fact that his animal could not be compared with their own horses. The brothers put their steeds into the stables and placed plenty of hay and corn before them, then they walked into the tap-room and found Jack already enjoying himself.
"So you have got here, brother," they remarked. "As you behold, youngsters, though I had not left home when the clock struck twelve." "Certainly it is a mystery how you have got here on that thorough-bred of yours, a wolf could swallow the creature at a bite."
They sat down and ate and drank; so soon as it became dark, the lads went out to look after the horses.
"Well then, where will you put your horse over night?" they inquired of the eldest.
"I will put it into the same stables with yours."
"You don't mean that, it will barely reach to the bellies of our horses, the stables are too big for that steed of yours."
But Jack took his foal into the stables and threw his cloak over its back. In the meantime his brothers had returned to the tap-room and were holding council as to what was to be done with their eldest brother.
"What shall we do with him? what indeed? what can we do under the circumstances but kill him? It will never do to take him with us to the girls, they will laugh at us and drive us off in disgrace."
At this the foal began to speak, and said: "I say, dear master, tie me near the wall, your brothers will come to kill you, but don't do anything in the matter, leave it to me; join them, eat and drink, and then come back and lie down at my feet, I will do the rest."
Jack did as he was told; upon leaving the tap-room he returned to the stables and lay down at the feet of his foal, and as the wine had made him a bit drowsy he soon fell asleep. Ere long his brothers arrived with their hatchet-sticks which they had purchased for the wedding.
"Gee-up, you jackass," they shouted, and all eleven were about to attack the poor little foal, when it kicked out with such force that it sent the youngest flying against the wall.
"Get up, dear master, they have come." Jack thereupon woke, and his little foal asked him, "What shall I do with them?"
"Oh! knock them all against the wall."
The foal did as it was told, and the lads dropped about like crab-apples. It collected them all into a heap, when Jack, seeing their condition, became frightened, so he hurriedly picked up a bucket, ran to the well, fetched some water and poured it over the eleven. They managed, with some difficulty, to get on to their feet and then showered reproaches upon him, complaining bitterly about his unbrotherly conduct in ordering his foal to handle them so roughly as it had done.
The eleven then left the inn without a moment's delay, and toiled along the whole night and the next day, until at last, on the following evening, they reached the home of the twelve girls. But to get in was not such an easy task, for the place was fenced round with strong iron rails, the gate was also very strong and made of iron, and the latch was so heavy that it took more than six powerful men to lift it. The eleven brothers made their horses prance about and bade them to kick against the latch, but all their manoeuvres were of no avail--they could not move the latch.
But what has become of Jack? where did he tarry? His foal knew only too well where the girls could be found, and how they could be got at; so he did not budge from the inn until late in the afternoon, and spent his time eating and drinking. His brothers were still busily engaged with the latch, hammering at it and kicking, when at last, just when the people were lighting the candles at dusk, the brothers discovered Jack approaching high up in the air on his foal. As soon as he reached the gate he wheeled round, the foal gave a tremendous kick at the latch, whereupon the gate, and with it a portion of the railing, heeled over into the dust. The landlady, a diabolical old witch, then came running to the gate with a lamp in her hand, and said: "I knew Jack that you had arrived, and I have come and opened the gate." This statement was of course not true.
The lads entered the house, where they found the twelve girls all standing in a row. With regard to the age of the maidens they corresponded to those of the lads; and when it came to choice, the eldest lad fell in love with the eldest girl, the youngest lad with the youngest maid, and so on, every lad with the girl of his own age. They sat down to supper, each girl by the side of her beau; they ate and drank, enjoyed themselves, and the kissing had no end. At last they exchanged handkerchiefs. As it was getting late, and the young folks became sleepy, they all retired to rest. Beds were prepared for all twenty-four in a huge room; on one side stood the beds for the girls, on the other those for the lads. Just then the mischievous old witch, who was the girls' mother, walked out of the house, and muttered to herself:
"Now I have got you all in my net, you wretched crew, we shall see which of you will leave this place alive!"
It so happened that Jack went out to look after his foal; he took a bucketful of wine with him and gave his animal a drink, whereupon the foal spoke to him thus:
"I say, dear master! we have come to an awful place; that old witch intends to kill you all. At the same time don't be frightened, but do what I am about to tell you. After everybody has gone to bed, come out again and lead us horses out from these stables, and tie twelve horses belonging to the old witch in our places. With regard to yourselves, place your hats on to the girls' heads, and the old witch will mistake the maids, and slay them in your stead. I will send such a deep slumber over them that even a noise seven times as loud as you will make cannot wake them."
In conformity with the advice thus received, Jack re-entered the bedchamber, placed the twelve men's hats on to the heads of the girls; he then exchanged the horses, and went back to bed. Soon after the old witch commenced to whet a huge knife, which sent forth a shower of vivid sparks: she then approached the beds, groped about, and as soon as she discovered a hat, snap! off went a head, and so she went on until she had cut off all the girls' heads. Then she left the house, fetched a broad axe, sharpened it and went into the stables. Snap! off came the head of the first horse, then the next, till she had killed all twelve.
The foal then stamped upon the ground, whereupon Jack went out, and was thus spoken to by his foal:
"Now then, dear master! rouse up all your brothers, and tell them to saddle their horses! and let them get away from this place without a moment's delay. Don't let dawn overtake them here, or they are lost. You yourself can go back and finish your sleep."
Jack rushed in and with great difficulty roused them; and then informed them of the dangerous position they were in. After a great deal of trouble, they got up and left the place. Jack himself laid down and had a sound sleep. As soon as the first streaks of dawn appeared, the foal again stamped; Jack went out, sat upon it, and as they flew through the gate the foal gave the railing such a powerful kick that even the house tottered and fell. The old witch hereupon jumped up in great hurry, sat a-straddle an iron pole, and rode in pursuit of Jack.
"Stop Jack, you deceitful lad!" she shouted; "you have killed my twelve daughters, and destroyed my twelve horses. I am not sure whether you will be able to come again hither or not!"
"If I do, I shall be here; if not, then I shan't."
Poor Jack got weary of his life, not having been able to get himself a wife. He did not return to his native town, but went into the wide, wide world. As he and his foal were proceeding on their journey, the steed said to him: "Look, dear master! I have stept on a hair of real gold; it is here under my hoof. It would bring ill luck if we picked it up, but it would equally be unlucky to leave it; so you had better take it with you." Jack picked up the golden hair, and re-mounted his foal, and continued his journey. After a while the foal again spoke, saying: "My dear master! now I have stept on a half horse-shoe of pure gold, it is here under my hoof. It would be unlucky to take it with us, but we should not fare better if we left it; so you had better take it." Jack picked up the half horse-shoe of pure gold, put it into his bag, and they again flew like lightning. They reached a town just as the evening bell rang, and stopped in front of an hostelry; Jack got off, walked in and asked the innkeeper:
"Well, my dear host, what is the news in this town?"
"Nothing else, my kinsman, but that the king's coachman, who drove his state-coach, is lying on his death-bed; if you care for the situation, you had better take it."
So Jack at once made up his mind, and went to see the king--who was then still a bachelor--and was at once engaged by him to drive the state-coach. He did not ask for any wages, but only stipulated that his foal should be allowed to feed with the coach-horses from the same manger. To this the king agreed, and Jack at once proceeded to the stables. In the evening the other grooms (there were some fifty or sixty of them) raised a great cry, and all asked for candles from the woman who served out the stores. But Jack did not want any, so he did not ask for any, and still his horses were in better condition, and were better groomed than the rest. All the other grooms used a whole candle a head every night. This set the storekeeper woman thinking; she could not imagine how it could be that, whereas all the other men wanted a whole candle a head every blessed night, the man who drove the state-coach did not want any, and still his horses looked a hundred times better than the others. She told the strange discovery to the king, who immediately sent for all the men with the exception of Jack.
"Well, my sons, tell me this: How is it that every one of you burns a whole candle every night, whereas my state-coachman has never asked for any, and still his horses look seven times better than yours?"
"Oh, your majesty, he has no need to ask for any; we could do without them, if we were in his position."
"How is that, explain yourselves."
"Because, sir, he does his work one morning by the light of a golden hair, and every other morning by the rays of half a horse-shoe of pure gold."
The king dismissed the grooms, and the next day at dawn concealed himself, and watched Jack, and satisfied himself with his own eyes that his men had spoken the truth. So soon as he got back into his rooms, he sent for Jack, and addressed him thus:
"I say, my boy, you were working this morning by the light of a hair of real gold."
"That is not true, your majesty; where on earth could I get a hair of real gold?"
"Don't let us waste any words! I saw it with my own eyes this morning. If the girl to whom that golden hair belonged is not here by to-morrow morning you forfeit your life! I'll hang you!"
Poor Jack returned to the stables and wept like a child. "What is the matter?" inquired his foal; "Why do I see those tears? what makes you cry?"
"How could I help crying and weeping? the king has just sent for me and told me that if I can't produce the girl to whom the golden hair belonged he will hang me."
"This is indeed a very serious look-out, my dear master, because you must know that the old witch whose twelve girls we have slain has yet another most beautiful daughter; the girl has not yet been allowed to see daylight, she is always kept in a special room which she has never yet left, and in which six candles are kept burning day and night--that is the girl to whom that golden hair once belonged. But never mind, eat and drink to your heart's content, we will go and fetch her. But be cautious when you enter the house where the daughter of the old witch is guarded, because there are a dozen bells over the door, and they may betray you."
Jack therefore ate and drank, and took a bucketful of wine to his foal too, and gave it a drink. Then they started and went and went, until after a while they reached the dwelling of the old witch. Jack dismounted, cautiously approached the door, carefully muffled the dozen bells, and gently opened the door without making the slightest noise. And lo! inside he beheld the girl with the golden tresses, such a wonderfully pretty creature the like of which he had not set his eyes upon before during all his eventful life. He stole up to her bedside on tiptoe, grasped the girl round the waist, and in another second was again out of the house, carrying her off with him. He ran as fast as he could and mounted his steed. The foal gave a parting kick to the house that made the roof tumble in, and the next moment was off, high up in the air like a swift bird. But the old witch was not slow either, the moment she was roused she mounted a long fir-pole and tore after Jack like forked lightning.
"It is you, Jack, you good-for-nothing, deceitful fellow! My twelve daughters have perished by your hand, and now you carry off my thirteenth! You may have been here before, but I'll take care that you don't come again."
"If I do, I do; if I don't, I don't."
Jack went and went, and by dawn had already reached home; he conducted the girl into the king's presence, and lo! no sooner had the monarch caught sight of her than he rushed forward and embraced her, saying: "Oh, my darling, my pretty love, you are mine and I am yours!" But the girl would not utter a single word, not for the whole world. This made the king question her: "What is the matter, my love? Why are you so sad?"
"How can I help being sad? Nobody can have me until some one brings hither all my goods and chattels, my spinning-wheel and distaff, nay, the very dust in my room."
The king at once sent for Jack.
"Well, my boy, if the golden-haired girl's goods and chattels, spinning-wheel, distaff, and the very dust in her room, are not here by to-morrow morning, I will hang you."
Jack was very much downcast and began to cry. When he reached the stables his foal again asked him: "What's the matter with you, my dear master? Why all this sorrow?"
"How can I help weeping and crying, my dear horse; the king has sent for me and threatened to hang me if the golden-haired girl's goods and chattels, nay, the very dust of her room, be not here by to-morrow morning."
"Don't fret, my dear master, we will go and fetch them too. Get a table-cloth somewhere, and when you enter her room spread out the cloth on the floor and sweep all her paraphernalia into it."
Jack got ready and started on his errand. Within a short time he reached the dwelling of the old witch, entered the room, and spread out his cloth. But, would anybody believe it, the glare of the place very nearly blinded him; the very dust on the floor was pure gold. He swept everything he could find into the table-cloth, swung the bundle on his back, and ran out; having got outside, the foal at his bidding gave the building a powerful kick that demolished its very foundations. This woke the old witch, who immediately mounted a red-hot broom and tore after him like a whirlwind.
"Confound you, deceitful Jack! after you have robbed me of all my thirteen daughters, you now come and steal the chattels of the youngest girl. I warrant that you won't return hither any more."
"If I do, I do; if I don't, I don't."
Jack went home with the luggage and handed it to the king.
"Well, my darling, my pretty love! your wish is now fulfilled, and nothing can prevent you from becoming mine."
"You shall have me, but only on one condition. Somebody must go for my stud with golden hair, which is to be found beyond the Red Sea. Until all my horses are here nobody can have me."
The king again sent for Jack.
"Listen to this, my boy; the girl with the golden hair has a golden-haired stud beyond the Red Sea; if you don't go at once to fetch them, you forfeit your life."
Jack went down stairs in great trouble, bent over his foal, buried his face in his hands, and wept most bitterly, and as he sobbed and moaned the little foal asked: "What are you crying about now?" Jack told the foal what the king had ordered him to do, and what the punishment would be if the order were not obeyed.
"Don't weep, dear master, don't fret; the thing can be done if you follow my directions. Go up stairs to the king and beg of him twelve buffalo-hides, twelve balls of twine, a grubbing-hoe, and an ordinary hoe, besides a stout awl to sew the buffalo-hides together with."
Jack went to the king and declared himself willing to carry out his order if he would let him have these things, to which the king replied: "Go and take anything that you may require, there must be some sixty buffalo-hides still left hanging in the loft."
Jack went up to the loft and took what he wanted; then he ate and drank, gave his foal a bucketful of wine, and set out in search of the horses with the golden hair.
He journeyed on till, after a short lapse of time, he reached the Red Sea, which he crossed on the back of his foal. As soon as they emerged from the water and gained the opposite shore, the foal said: "Look, my dear master; can you see the pear-tree on that hill yonder? Let's go up on the hill, take your hoe and dig a hole big enough to hold me; and as soon as you have dug the hole sew the twelve buffalo-hides together and wrap them round me, as it would not be advisable for me to get into the hole without them. As soon as I have got in, blow this whistle and the stallion will appear; and the moment you see it touching the buffalo skins, throw a halter over its head."
Jack tucked up his shirt-sleeves, dug the hole, sewed the twelve buffalo-hides on to the foal, and his steed got into the hole. Then he blew the whistle, and lo! a fine stallion, with golden hair, and almost entirely covered with golden froth, jumped out of the ground; it pranced about, and kicked out in all directions, whereupon Jack's foal said: "Now then, my dear master, throw that halter over its head and jump on its back." Jack did as he was told; when, no sooner was he on its back, than the stallion gave a tremendous neigh that rent all the mountains asunder. At its call a vast number of golden-haired horses appeared; so many, that Jack was not able to count them. The whole herd immediately took to their heels, and galloped off with the speed of lightning. The king had not yet finished dressing in the morning when the whole stud with golden hair stood arrayed in his courtyard. So soon as he caught sight of them he rushed off to the girl with the golden hair and exclaimed: "Well, my love, the golden horses are all here, and now you are mine." "Oh, no! I shan't be yours. I won't touch either food or drink until the lad who has fetched my animals milks the mares."
The king sent for Jack.
"I say, my boy, if you do not at once milk the mares, I'll play the hangman with you."
"How can I milk them, sir? Even as they are, I find it difficult to save myself from being trampled to death."
"Do not let us waste any words; it must be done!"
Jack returned to the stables, and looked very sad; he would not touch any food or drink. His foal again addressed him and asked: "Why all this sorrow, dear master?"
"How could I help being sad? The king has ordered me to milk the mares no matter what happens, whether I get over it dead or alive."
"Don't fret. Ask him to lend you the tub up in the loft, and milk the mares. They won't do you the least harm."
And so it happened. Jack fetched the tub and milked the mares. They stood all the time as quietly as the most patient milch-cows. The king then said to the girl with the golden hair, "Well, my darling; your wish is fulfilled, and you are mine."
"I shan't be yours until the lad who milked the mares has bathed in the milk."
The king sent for Jack.
"Well, my boy, as you have milked the mares, you had better bathe in the milk."
"Gracious majesty! How could I do that? The milk is boiling hot, and throws up bubbles as high as a man."
"Don't talk; you have to bathe in the milk or you forfeit your life."
Jack went down and cried, and gave up all hope of life; he was sure of death on the gallows. His foal again spoke, and said: "Don't cry, dear master, but tell me what is the matter with you." Jack told him what he had to do under penalty of death.
"Don't fret, my dear master; but go to the king and ask his permission to allow you to lead me to the tub, and be present when you take your bath. I will draw out all the heat, and you can bathe in the milk without any fear."
So Jack went to the king, and said, "Well, gracious majesty, at least grant me the favour of allowing my foal to be present when I am having my bath, so that it may see me give up the ghost."
"I don't care if there be a hundred foals present."
Jack returned to the stables, led his foal to the tub, who began to sniff. At last it took a deep breath, and beckoned to Jack not to jump in yet. Then it continued drawing in its breath, and suddenly at a sign Jack jumped into the tub, and had his bath. When he finished and got out of the tub he was three times more handsome than before; although he was a very handsome lad then. When the king saw this he said to the lad: "Well, Jack, you see you would not have the bath at first. I'm going to have one myself." The king jumped in, but in the meantime the foal had sent all the heat into the milk back again, and the tyrant was scalded to death. The heat was so intense that nothing was left of his body except a few bits of bone, as big as my little finger, which were every now and then brought up by the bubbles. Jack lost not a moment, but rushed up to the girl with the golden hair, embraced and kissed her, and said: "Well, my pretty darling, love of my heart, you are now mine, and I am yours; not even the spade and the hoe shall separate us one from another." To which she replied: "Oh, my love, Jackie, for a long time this has been one of my fondest wishes, as I knew that you were a brave lad."
The wedding was celebrated with great pomp, that gave people something to talk about over seven countries. I, too, was present at the banquet, and kept on shouting: "Chef! Cook! let me have a bone," till, at last, he did take up a bone and threw it at me. It hit me, and made my side ache ever since.