N THE REIGN of the famous King Arthur, there lived near the Land's End of England, in the county of Cornwall, a worthy farmer, who had an only son named Jack. Jack was a boy of a bold temper; he took pleasure in hearing or reading stories of wizards, conjurers, giants, and fairies, and used to listen eagerly while his father talked of the great deeds of the brave knights of King Arthur's Round Table. When Jack was sent to take care of the sheep and oxen in the fields, he used to amuse himself with planning battles, sieges, and the means to conquer or surprise a foe. He was above the common sports of children; but hardly any one could equal him at wrestling; or, if he met with a match for himself in strength, his skill and address always made him the victor. In those days there lived on St. Michael's Mount of Cornwall, which rises out of the sea at some distance from the main land, a huge giant. He was eighteen feet high, and three yards round; and his fierce and savage looks were the terror of all his neighbours. He dwelt in a gloomy cavern on the very top of the mountain, and used to wade over to the main land in search of his prey. When he came near, the people left their houses; and after he had glutted his appetite upon their cattle, he would throw half-a-dozen oxen upon his back, and tie three times as many sheep and hogs round his waist, and so march back to his own abode. The giant had done this for many years, and the coast of Cornwall was greatly hurt by his thefts, when Jack boldly resolved to destroy him. He therefore took a horn, a shovel, pickaxe, and a dark lantern, and early in a long winter's evening he swam to the mount. There he fell to work at once, and before morning he had dug a pit twenty-two feet deep, and almost as many broad. He covered it over with sticks and straw, and strewed some of the earth over them, to make it look just like solid ground. He then put his horn to his mouth, and blew such a loud and long tantivy, that the giant awoke and came towards Jack, roaring like thunder: "You saucy villain, you shall pay dearly for breaking my rest; I will broil you for my breakfast." He had scarcely spoken these words, when he came advancing one step farther; but then he tumbled headlong into the pit, and his fall shook the very mountain. "O ho, Mr. Giant!" said Jack, looking into the pit, "have you found your way so soon to the bottom? How is your appetite now? Will nothing serve you for breakfast this cold morning but broiling poor Jack?" The giant now tried to rise, but Jack struck him a blow on the crown of the head with his pickaxe, which killed him at once. Jack then made haste back to rejoice his friends with the news of the giant's death. When the justices of Cornwall heard of this valiant action, they sent for Jack, and declared that he should always be called Jack the Giant Killer; and they also gave him a sword and belt, upon which was written in letters of gold:
"This is the valiant Cornishman
Who slew the Giant Cormoran."
The news of Jack's exploits soon spread over the western parts of England; and another giant, called Old Blunderbore, vowed to have revenge on Jack, if it should ever be his fortune to get him into his power. This giant kept an enchanted castle in the midst of a lonely wood. About four months after the death of Cormoran, as Jack was taking a journey into Wales, he passed through this wood; and as he was very weary, he sat down to rest by the side of a pleasant fountain, and there he fell into a deep sleep. The giant came to the fountain for water just at this time, and found Jack there; and as the lines on Jack's belt showed who he was, the giant lifted him up and laid him gently upon his shoulder to carry him to his castle: but as he passed through the thicket, the rustling of the leaves waked Jack; and he was sadly afraid when he found himself in the clutches of Blunderbore. Yet this was nothing to his fright soon after; for when they reached the castle, he beheld the floor covered all over with the skulls and bones of men and women. The giant took him into a large room where lay the hearts and limbs of persons who had been lately killed; and he told Jack, with a horrid grin, that men's hearts, eaten with pepper and vinegar, were his nicest food; and also, that he thought he should make a dainty meal on his heart. When he had said this, he locked Jack up in that room, while he went to fetch another giant who lived in the same wood, to enjoy a dinner off Jack's flesh with him. While he was away, Jack heard dreadful shrieks, groans, and cries, from many parts of the castle; and soon after he heard a mournful voice repeat these lines:
"Haste, valiant stranger, haste away,
Lest you become the giant's prey.
On his return he'll bring another,
Still more savage than his brother:
A horrid, cruel monster, who,
Before he kills, will torture you.
Oh valiant stranger, haste away,
Or you'll become these giants' prey."
This warning was so shocking to poor Jack, that he was ready to go mad. He ran to the window, and saw the two giants coming along arm in arm. This window was right over the gates of the castle. "Now," thought Jack, "either my death or freedom is at hand." There were two strong cords in the room: Jack made a large noose with a slip-knot at the ends of both these, and as the giants were coming through the gates, he threw the ropes over their heads. He then made the other ends fast to a beam in the ceiling, and pulled with all his might till he had almost strangled them. When he saw that they were both quite black in the face, and had not the least strength left, he drew his sword, and slid down the ropes; he then killed the giants, and thus saved himself from the cruel death they meant to put him to. Jack next took a great bunch of keys from the pocket of Blunderbore, and went into the castle again. He made a strict search through all the rooms; and in them found three ladies tied up by the hair of their heads, and almost starved to death. They told him that their husbands had been killed by the giants, who had then condemned them to be starved to death, because they would not eat the flesh of their own dead husbands. "Ladies," said Jack, "I have put an end to the monster and his wicked brother; and I give you this castle and all the riches it contains, to make you some amends for the dreadful pains you have felt." He then very politely gave them the keys of the castle, and went further on his journey to Wales. As Jack had not taken any of the giant's riches for himself, and so had very little money of his own, he thought it best to travel as fast as he could. At length he lost his way, and when night came on he was in a lonely valley between two lofty mountains, where he walked about for some hours without seeing any dwelling place, so he thought himself very lucky at last, in finding a large and handsome house.
He went up to it boldly, and knocked loudly at the gate, when, to his great terror and surprise, there came forth a monstrous giant with two heads. He spoke to Jack very civilly, for he was a Welsh giant, and all the mischief he did was by private and secret malice, under the show of friendship and kindness. Jack told him that he was a traveller who had lost his way, on which the huge monster made him welcome, and led him into a room, where there was a good bed to pass the night in. Jack took off his clothes quickly; but though he was so weary he could not go to sleep. Soon after this he heard the giant walking backward and forward in the next room, and saying to himself:
"Though here you lodge with me this night,
You shall not see the morning light;
My club shall dash your brains out quite."
"Say you so?" thought Jack; "are these your tricks upon travellers? But I hope to prove as cunning as you." Then getting out of bed, he groped about the room, and at last found a large thick billet of wood; he laid it in his own place in the bed, and then hid himself in a dark corner of the room. In the middle of the night the giant came with his great club, and struck many heavy blows on the bed, in the very place where Jack had laid the billet, and then he went back to his own room, thinking he had broken all his bones. Early in the morning, Jack put a bold face upon the matter, and walked into the giant's room to thank him for his lodgings. The giant started when he saw him, and he began to stammer out, "Oh, dear me! Is it you? Pray, how did you sleep last night? Did you hear or see any thing in the dead of the night?" "Nothing worth speaking of," said Jack carelessly; "a rat, I believe, gave me three or four slaps with his tail, and disturbed me a little; but I soon went to sleep again." The giant wondered more and more at this; yet he did not answer a word, but went to bring two great bowls of hasty-pudding for their breakfast. Jack wished to make the giant believe that he could eat as much as himself. So he contrived to button a leathern bag inside his coat, and slipped the hasty-pudding into this bag, while he seemed to put it into his mouth. When breakfast was over, he said to the giant: "Now I will show you a fine trick; I can cure all wounds with a touch; I could cut off my head one minute, and the next, put it sound again on my shoulders: you shall see an example." He then took hold of the knife, ripped up the leathern bag, and all the hasty-pudding tumbled out upon the floor. "Ods splutter hur nails," cried the Welsh giant, who was ashamed to be outdone by such a little fellow as Jack, "hur can do that hurself." So he snatched up the knife, plunged it into his stomach, and in a moment dropped down dead.