This gem is from Andrew Lang’s Orange Fairy Book, and is a variation of the Stupid Jack stories (“…& the Beanstalk” being the most famous). One of my favorite things about it is that it makes lofty attempts at morality, while totally ignoring the fact that the main character perpetuates several mean-spirited, downright dishonorable acts of trickery smack-dab in the middle (look for the part where old men start giving him magical objects).
Without further ado, I present to you:
The Three Treasures of the Giants
Long, long ago, there lived an old man and his wife who had three sons; the eldest was called Martin, the second Michael, while the third was named Jack.
One evening they were all seated round the table, eating their supper of bread and milk.
‘Martin,’ said the old man suddenly, ‘I feel that I cannot live much longer. You, as the eldest, will inherit this hut; but, if you value my blessing, be good to your mother and brothers.’
‘Certainly, father; how can you suppose I should do them wrong?’ replied Martin indignantly, helping himself to all the best bits in the dish as he spoke. The old man saw nothing, but Michael looked on in surprise, and Jack was so astonished that he quite forgot to eat his own supper.
A little while after, the father fell ill, and sent for his sons, who were out hunting, to bid him farewell. After giving good advice to the two eldest, he turned to Jack.
‘My boy,’ he said, ‘you have not got quite as much sense as other people, but if Heaven has deprived you of some of your wits, it was given you a kind heart. Always listen to what it says, and take heed to the words of your mother and brothers, as well as you are able!’ So saying the old man sank back on his pillows and died.
The cries of grief uttered by Martin and Michael sounded through the house, but Jack remained by the bedside of his father, still and silent, as if he were dead also. At length he got up, and going into the garden, hid himself in some trees, and wept like a child, while his two brothers made ready for the funeral.
No sooner was the old man buried than Martin and Michael agreed that they would go into the world together to seek their fortunes, while Jack stayed at home with their mother. Jack would have liked nothing better than to sit and dream by the fire, but the mother, who was very old herself, declared that there was no work for him to do, and that he must seek it with his brothers.
So, one fine morning, all three set out; Martin and Michael carried two great bags full of food, but Jack carried nothing. This made his brothers very angry, for the day was hot and the bags were heavy, and about noon they sat down under a tree and began to eat. Jack was as hungry as they were, but he knew that it was no use asking for anything; and he threw himself under another tree, and wept bitterly.
‘Another time perhaps you won’t be so lazy, and will bring food for yourself,’ said Martin, but to his surprise Jack answered:
‘You are a nice pair! You talk of seeking your fortunes so as not to be a burden on our mother, and you begin by carrying off all the food she has in the house!’
This reply was so unexpected that for some moments neither of the brothers made any answer. Then they offered their brother some of their food, and when he had finished eating they went their way once more.
Towards evening they reached a small hut, and knocking at the door, asked if they might spend the night there. The man, who was a wood-cutter, invited them him, and begged them to sit down to supper. Martin thanked him, but being very proud, explained that it was only shelter they wanted, as they had plenty of food with them; and he and Michael at once opened their bags and began to eat, while Jack hid himself in a corner. The wife, on seeing this, took pity on him, and called him to come and share their supper, which he gladly did, and very good he found it. At this, Martin regretted deeply that he had been so foolish as to refuse, for his bits of bread and cheese seemed very hard when he smelt the savoury soup his brother was enjoying.
‘He shan’t have such a chance again,’ thought he; and the next morning he insisted on plunging into a thick forest where they were likely to meet nobody.
For a long time they wandered hither and thither, for they had no path to guide them; but at last they came upon a wide clearing, in the midst of which stood a castle. Jack shouted with delight, but Martin, who was in a bad temper, said sharply:
‘We must have taken a wrong turning! Let us go back.’
‘Idiot!’ replied Michael, who was hungry too, and, like many people when they are hungry, very cross also. ‘We set out to travel through the world, and what does it matter if we go to the right or to the left?’ And, without another word, took the path to the castle, closely followed by Jack, and after a moment by Martin likewise.
The door of the castle stood open, and they entered a great hall, and looked about them. Not a creature was to be seen, and suddenly Martin–he did not know why–felt a little frightened. He would have left the castle at once, but stopped when Jack boldly walked up to a door in the wall and opened it.