There was once a poor widow who had but one child, a son, Jack by name. Her husband had left her money when he died, but in a few years it was all used up. Jack was a silly fellow; he was always doing stupid things and was of no help to his mother, although his father had said that some day he would do great deeds. Soon the widow became very poor. She lived on a large farm rented from a greedy landlord who lived in the town near by. The rent had to be paid once a year, and when pay day was drawing near, she found she had no money to give the landlord. She had several fine cows, so she thought she would sell one and get money to pay her rent.
One morning she sent Jack off to market with the finest cow she had. As Jack drove the cow along, he passed a house standing in the forest near the road. A man sitting on the steps called to him. “Where are you going with the cow?” he asked. “I am driving her to market to sell her,” answered Jack. The man asked him to come in and rest a while, and Jack tied the cow to a tree and went in. Then the man said, “You must give the cow to me.” But Jack answered, “I cannot give her to you; I will sell her to you, for my mother needs the money.” The man asked Jack to have something to eat, and placed before him on the table a plateful of food. Jack ate heartily, but the food did not grow less. He ate and ate and could not stop. Soon he became so full that he was almost bursting, but the food had grown no smaller, and he could not stop eating, although he tried very hard. He called to the man to take away the food. But the man answered, “If you will give me your cow, I will take away the plate; if not, you may eat away.” So Jack agreed to give him the cow, for he was afraid he would burst from overeating, and in return for the cow the man gave him the dish of magical food. Then he went back home.
When he reached home, his mother asked him for the money from the sale of the cow. But he told her he had been robbed of the cow by the man in the forest. She scolded him, and called him many harsh names, and took the broom to beat him. But when she took hold of him, he placed a little of the magical food in her mouth, and his mother, charmed with the taste, at once asked for more. He gave her the dish, and just as he had done at the man’s house, she ate and ate until she too was almost bursting, but she could not stop. When she pleaded with him to take the food away, he said, “I will take it away if you will not beat me,” and she agreed.
The next morning his mother sent Jack off to market with another cow. He passed the same house as on the previous day, and the same man was again sitting on the steps. The man asked him for the cow, but Jack, remembering what had happened the day before, hurried on without reply. Then the man took off the belt he was wearing and threw it down in the middle of the road. At once the belt leaped around both Jack and the cow, tying both tightly together. The man said he would let them free if Jack would give him the cow. But Jack refused. Then the belt began to tighten slowly; it got tighter and tighter, pressing Jack to the cow until he could hardly draw his breath. At last, when he could stand it no longer, he agreed to give up the cow, and the man set him free. In return Jack received the magic belt. When he reached home, his mother again asked him for the money from the sale of the cow. When he told her that he had again been robbed, she was more angry than before; she called him harsh names again, and rushed at him saying she would kill him. But Jack unclasped his magic belt, threw it on the floor, and at once it leaped around his mother, tying her hand and foot. As the belt became tighter and tighter, his mother began to gasp for breath, and cried out to be set free. But Jack said, “I will untie you, if you promise not to beat me.” So his mother, almost smothered, agreed. Then he untied her, and she kept her promise.
As the rent-day was near at hand, his mother resolved to try once more to sell a cow, and the next morning Jack was again sent to market driving the third cow. As he passed the same house by the side of the forest road, the man who had already taken two cows from him sat on the steps. He asked Jack to give him the cow he was driving, just as he had done before. But in answer, Jack picked up a large stone and threw it in anger at the man’s head. The man dodged the stone, and took from his pocket a small flute and began to play it. In spite of his efforts to keep still, Jack began to dance. The cow joined in the jig, and both danced and danced up and down the road and could not stop. They danced until Jack was tired out, but he could not stop, although he tried hard. He pleaded with the man to stop playing the flute. The man said, “I will stop if you will give me your cow.” But Jack had already lost two cows and he refused. “Then dance away,” said the man, and Jack danced until he was almost dropping. Finally he agreed to give up the cow. The dance was stopped, and in return for the cow, Jack received the magic flute.
When he reached home and told his mother that he had been robbed a third time, her rage knew no bounds. She said she would surely kill him this time, but as she sprang upon him, he began to play his flute. His mother began to dance, and when she ordered him to stop playing, he said, “I will stop if you promise not to beat me.” At first she refused, but as she danced until she was very tired, she finally agreed, and Jack escaped punishment. He found too that by playing another tune, he could call with his flute a great swarm of wasps which could not be seen by anyone but himself and which would obey all his commands.
The next day was the rent-day, and there was no money to pay the landlord. The widow was troubled, but Jack said, “I will pay him; be not troubled.” Soon the landlord and his servant drove up to the widow’s house. When they entered the house, the widow hid herself, for she did not want to meet the cruel landlord without her rent. But Jack met them and politely gave them seats. Then he offered them food after their long drive, and placed before them the dish of magical meat. And they ate and ate, just as Jack and his mother had done, and could not stop. At last they were almost bursting with the food, which grew no less on the dish, and they pleaded with Jack to take the dish away. Jack replied, “I will take it away if you will give up the farm to my mother, for we have paid you more rent than the farm is worth.” Finally the landlord, fearing he would burst, agreed. Jack removed the food, and the landlord returned to the town, leaving the farm to Jack and his mother.
Jack soon left the farm and all upon it to his mother, and started out to make his own fortune, taking with him his magic dish, belt and flute. He travelled far, and came at last to a town where a great man lived who had one beautiful daughter. She had many suitors, but she said that she would marry the man who could make her laugh three times. Jack resolved to make the trial, and went to the man’s house. He was an awkward, ugly fellow, and the girl looked on him, with great disgust, but she consented to let him make the trial. First Jack produced his magical dish, and offered it to the girl. She tasted the food and liked it so well that she ate more. She ate and ate as all who had eaten from it had done before her, until she cried out to have it taken away. But Jack would take it away on one condition—she must first laugh. Finally, when she too was almost bursting, she agreed, but she said to herself, “He will not make me laugh a second time.”
As soon as Jack had taken away the dish, the girl and her servants rushed upon him to punish him. But he threw down his magic belt, and at once they were all bound together in a heap, tied from head to foot. They begged to be untied. “I will untie you,” said Jack to the girl, “if you will laugh.” At first the girl refused, but as the belt slowly tightened, and she could stand it no longer, she agreed, and laughed feebly. Then Jack let them go.
No sooner were they set free than they rushed at Jack again to punish him. But he began to play on his flute, and at once the whole company began to dance. When they grew tired, they tried to stop, but they could not. They begged him to stop playing, but he replied, “I will stop when the girl laughs.” For a long time she refused, but when she became so weary of the dance that she could scarcely stand up she agreed, and laughed the third time.
Before Jack could claim her, her father heard what had happened, and he ordered Jack to be brought before him. When he saw such an ugly fellow, he too was disgusted, and said that Jack must be secretly put to death. So poor Jack was seized unexpectedly before he could use his magic aids and thrown into a cage of wild beasts. But when the beasts rushed upon him to eat him up he threw down his magic belt, and they were all tied up in a heap, while Jack escaped from the cage.
Meanwhile a very rich man had won the hand of the man’s daughter. On the day of the wedding Jack went again to the man’s house and waited. Just as the wedding ceremony was to begin, Jack went in; he sat behind a door in the corner and played a soft tune on his magic flute and called up a great swarm of wasps. The wasps could not be seen by any eyes but Jack’s, but they swarmed into the room. Jack told them to sting the rich man waiting at the altar to be the girl’s husband. At once the man, feeling them stinging, but unable to see anything, began to jump and scream like a madman. The people looked on in terror, believing that he had become suddenly crazy. The man jumped and yelled and slapped himself, until the girl declared that she would not marry a madman, and her father led her away and the people went out in great disorder. As the girl’s father went out, he saw Jack sitting behind the door. He was surprised to see that he had escaped from the wild beasts’ cage, for he believed that the beasts had eaten him up. He knew too that in some mysterious way Jack had been the cause of the uproar. Then the servants brought him word that the beasts in the cage were all tied up, and could not be set free. The man then knew that Jack had great power, so he sent for him and said, “You are a very wonderful man; you have won my daughter.” So with great joy and splendour the wedding took place. Jack built a great house, and when the girl’s father died, he received all his lands, and he lived happy ever afterwards with his bride, because of the magic dish and belt and flute he had taken in exchange for his cows.