Deep Dreams

11 - Jack, his mother, and the little man.

Do you want to see a man and woman with an iron-cart and a basket of sticks? Then comes the whole world against us! No! no! I have never yet seen a worse place than this, and I would do anything to keep you from seeing it.

This is what awaits you in the latest episode. This, and much worse.


Once there was a poor widow, as often there has been, and she had one son. A very scarce summer came, and they didn't know how they'd live till the new potatoes would be fit for eating. So Jack said to his mother one evening, "Mother, bake my cake, and kill my hen, till I go seek my fortune; and if I meet it, never fear but I'll soon be back to share it with you."

So she did as he asked her, and he set out at break of day on his journey. His mother came along with him to the yard gate, and says she, "Jack, which would you rather have, half the cake and half the hen with my blessing, or the whole of 'em with my curse?"

Jack said to himself, "I'll have half the cake and half the hen with her blessing."

He paused while his mother went to fetch the cake and the hen, and then he thought again, "If I go to seek my fortune, mayhap I shall never return, and I would rather have the whole of 'em with her curse than half of 'em with her blessing."

So he said to his mother, "Give me the whole of 'em with your curse."

She gave him a hearty box on the ear; but he set off on his journey. In less than an hour he met a little man with a brogue as big as his two fists; and he says to him, "My fine fellow, what's your business?"

"This is my business," says Jack, showing him the cake and chicken. "What's yours?"

"This is my business," says the little man. He took out of his fob a mighty book, which lay open in his hand; and pointing to a name among a lot of names wrote down there, he says to Jack, "Are you called Jack?"

"Yes," says Jack. Says the little man, "What's the two first letters of your name?"

"J and A," says Jack.

"Oh," says the little man, "I'm not sure that this book is yours."

"Then I can read it," said Jack, "and I see it's all about me."

The little man turned over the leaves of his book right and left, and then he showed Jack what he would have to do: "To-night," says he, "you'll be in a town where you'll find a great ball; to this ball you must go in grand array, for there you must choose a wife from among the daughters of noblemen and great people; but go not in your rags and tatters as you are now." Says Jack, "How shall I get apparelled otherwise?" "This I'll tell you," says the little man. "You must pull off your boots, and fill the toes with peas; then go and sell them for twenty pence. With this money buy a velvet coat, a hat with a silver buckle, and a pair of white silk stockings; so shall you be fit to go to this ball."

Jack did as the little man told him; but with all his care he could only get one shilling and threepence-halfpenny. He went to the shop to buy the coat, and asked the man if he'd take threepence halfpenny for it; but the man said he'd not. Jack said he'd give him another shilling if he'd take that, so he was forced to take it. Then Jack went away again; but before he went the man called after him, saying that if ever he came back again without having got a wife from among the great people at this ball, he was to be made into buttons for ony waistcoat that was wanting them. 'Twas just at sunset when Jack got to the town; but when he got near where the ball was going on, who should meet him but his mother! Says she to him, "Where have you been all this time? What a disgrace you are to me! In my life I never saw such a wretched creature as yourself! Oh! Oh!" says she. "Shame on ye! Oh! Oh!" She took him by his two shoulders, shook him 'till his teeth rattled like castanets.

Jack pulled out his sixpence before her face. "There!" says he. "Will you buy me a glass of ale with this?"

"Oh! oh!" says she, taking up the halfpenny at once; "what have you done? Have you brought me from my poor cottage just to show me what a disgrace you are?"

Jack slipped the glass of ale under his coat, and ran away as fast as he could to the ball.

The doors were just going to be opened, and when Jack got in, there was nothing but noblemen and gentlemen of high degree. He went up to the man at the door and said, "Lord have mercy on me! I'm almost starved with hunger and fatigue; will you be so kind as to let me go in?"

"Alas! Sir," says the man, "this is a grand ball, and 'tis an honour for ladies and gentlemen of great quality; we only allow those in that are fit for our company." "Oh, good sir," says Jack, "I'm dressed as well as every one here. Just look at my shoes - they're laced with gold, and my buckles are silver."

"Oh! what's the use of that?" said the man. "We want none of your shabby country tricks here."

"Well, sir," says Jack, "just let me once in, and I'll shew you a trick or two."

"Well," says the man, "if you can tell me what a lady has got in her hand without seeing her I'll let you in; but if you fail I'll have you turned out directly."

"Done," says Jack. So in he went. But the man took care to keep him close to the door till it was time for all the ladies and gentlemen of high degree to pass in, and then he shut him out, and hurried in himself with them.

"Well, Jack," says a gentleman that stood by, "where were you?" "Alas!" says Jack, "I was just this moment going in as fast as I could; but as I was passing by one of the ladies dropped her handkerchief. I could not help stopping to take it up; and I believe she has got it now."

"What!" says the gentleman, "and do you think that will excuse you? No such thing. Come along with me, and I'll shew you the door." So he took hold of his arm; but Jack pulled away from him, and says he, "I'll make my way into the ball before I leave it, if I pull down every house in the street."

"Oh! that's it," says the gentleman. Then he called out as loud as he could, "Will some gentleman or lady of high degree oblige me with a glass of water?" One of the great people at the door said he'd get him one directly. Says Jack, "I thank you kindly, but I won't trouble you."

"But let me help you," said the gentleman. "No," says Jack; "I'll go to one of the taps there." So off he went to one of the taps; but when he got there there was no water running; for the servants had gone home to bed. He cried out again to the gentleman at the door: "Can you tell me where there's a well?" "Yes," said another fine fellow; "just turn down that lane on your right hand;" so away went Jack to the well. But when he got to it there was no water in it; every drop had been taken out to give to some poor creature as had been wounded or hurt. No doubt 'twas all meant kind and good; but it would have been more thought on if they would have put up a sign-post at the well with an inscription saying, that after a certain hour in the evening not one drop more would be given out for any purpose whatsoever.

"Well," said Jack to himself, "I'll be sure never to come here again;" so back he went again, terribly tired with all this running backwards and forwards; and just as he got opposite where the great man stood at the door there was such a noise, 'twas like all Bedlam turned loose. The stewards were beating down every one before them for not being dressed in their best clothes - the musicians were playing over and over again for no one to dance - the ladies screaming and scolding because they could not get partners - and all this confusion at first served rather to increase than abate his hunger. At last Jack made his way into a room where a great many fine ladies and gentlemen were assembled round a table covered with every sort of dainty meat which could be thought of; but before they fell to eat anything they tumbled about for half an hour or so, until all their clothes were dirty with sweat, so that they were obliged to go into another room and put on clean ones again before they sat down to supper.

In comes Jack's mother amongst them. She was dressed like all the rest. And just as she was going up-stairs she claps her hands three times together, crying out as loud as she could bawl: "O! O! O!" When she got upstairs she dressed herself very quickly - put on a pair of spectacles on her nose - and then she said: "A broken sword will never bring back luck." And then she came downstairs again into the room where Jack was standing silent in a corner by himself. One big lady with a big nose came up to him, saying: "How long do you mean staying here? You're not welcome here."

"Certainly not," says another old dame; "you're not dressed like one of us;" and so they hustled him about from one place to another until at last one came up who knew his mother's face; then they throwed themselves upon her with every possible sign of respect, asking her pardon that they had mistook her son for some country fellow. And then his mother began telling them what a delicate child he had been from his birth upwards - how careful she had always been of his clothes - how she had kept him out of all kind of harm's way - how much money she had spent upon him in dress - how hard work had prevented her from keeping him at school longer than two months at a time - how much money she had spent upon books which cost more rent than she could afford - and lastly how sorry she was that Jack was not old enough yet to get married herself! All this made a terrible noise through all ranks until at last one old lady started up and said: "Heavens! how finely dressed that young lady is!" Then they made more room between them; but his mother pressed forward before them all, saying: "Come along with me, my dear boy;" so she took hold of him by his sleeve and led him into another room which was quite full of pictures painted by little children about four years old! Every figure had something hanging about its neck: some figs ripe and green - some apples red or green ripe - some nuts brown or white ripe - and others again clusters of grapes hanging down. In many pictures besides these there were carriages drawn by horses white or black or roan or bay or dapple-grey - carts full of hay or straw drawn by horses dapple-grey or sorrel-coloured - horses black or brown or white harnessed to carts loaded with straw - all kinds fashionable liveries drawn by horses black or brown - carts full loaden with wheat drawn by horses brown or black - carts loaded with hay drawn by horses white - carts full loaden with iron drawn by horses sorrel-coloured - white oxen drawing carts along drawn by children harnessed side by side - -all sorts handsomely dressed among each other without distinction of rank among themselves - all sorts harnessed together without preference for those who are better off than others - without jealousy between nobleman's son or tailor's son - to work alike under favour of their own superiors' kindness.

This Jack gazed at attentively through several rooms full before him; but when he came into another room it seemed as if every figure was speaking words as plain as words could be spoken:

"O! give me something nice!"

"I want something nice!"

"I'm hungry!"

"Give me something nice!"

This went on like plain speaking enough till Jack began almost losing his senses; but still there were two figures over all others which seemed superior to the rest: A man working hard pulling an iron-cart, and a woman going along with a basketful of sticks upon her back. Jack was going to meet them when his mother's hand held him back and said: "What are you doing here?" But the child cried out and said, "I want to see them!"

"What!" said his mother, "do you want to see a man and woman with an iron-cart and a basket of sticks? Then comes the whole world against us! No! no! I have never yet seen a worse place than this, and I would do anything to keep you from seeing it; but come along with me, here is still another room full of pictures," so she pulled him out through all the others, pulling him by one arm, while his hand held the candle in his little hand. But now they were in a long room, where there were many thousand figures drawn by poor children; upon the wall was written: "This is my Father; and this is my Mother;" and so on to the last of them. The figures were all barefooted and ill-clad, working hard for their bread - but all seemed glad at heart and contented.

But just as Jack's mother was about leading him on again, he heard a voice behind him saying: "I have something nice for you!" so he looked round and saw one poor little boy with hardly any clothes at all, holding out his hand which had a nobleman's son's apple in it. And Jack took it greedily and ate it up, but the next moment he found his mother had disappeared; he ran back to the room where they had passed the night but nothing could be seen of her - he searched in every corner but she was gone - he called her, but she answered not - he stood still crying till his eyes were red - till his eyes were swelled up - till he could hardly see any longer - he sat down upon the floor and sobbed - he wept bitterly - and then says one of the figures near: "Do not be afraid of us" - "We are all alike"; says another: "Nothing shall harm you."

Then Jack looked up at the picture on the wall; it seemed beginning to move round as if it was coming down from its frame; then he heard something scratching at the bottom of it; then he saw the figures coming through the wall; then at last he found himself among them all; they began to hug him round - they covered him from head to foot with kisses - they put thimbles into his mouth instead of food - -they poured wine upon him instead of drink - -they gave him figs instead of apples - apples instead of pears. Then they all sprang with one accord into the iron-cart and away they drove into the wide, wide world.

"Where are we now?" cried Jack, "I should so much like to know."

"Do you want to know that?" asked one of them. "Then you must look back," said another. So Jack looked back, and he was in a little dark room where there was a poor old woman spinning at her wheel, and a kettle singing upon the fire; and then he saw how he had been tricked, and he began to cry, but the wind drove the tears back again into his eyes, and then he could look no more.

He then heard a little voice crying out from the picture on the wall, "See this is my Father and this is my Mother!" - and a thousand voices answered, as if from every corner of the world: "This is my Father and this is my Mother!" So Jack laughed for joy and shouted to them, "So it seems that I am not alone!" and then the poor little boy turned round once more to look the world in the face!

"Heigh ho!" said the poor little boy to himself; "what can have become of my mother? - where am I now? - how can I ever find her again?" And while he was thinking thus - while he was thinking what he should do next - while he was standing still - while he was standing upon one foot - while he was standing upon the other foot - while his head was going round as if he had been drinking too much - while his legs were going round like a wheel - while his body was balancing itself up and down like a teetotum - while his arms were stretching themselves out like two sticks - while his fingers were twirling themselves round like two fishing-rods; while all this was going on in his inside, his outside began also to go on with it. He had heard people talk about turning somersets; some did it for sport, others for fun: here was one who turned a somerset for sorrow! His head went round till at last he fell down upon one side; then his feet went over him in the air; then his body came rolling over very meekly; last of all came his arms and legs; so that when he had finished doing all these things together (just as if you should wrap yourself up in your own cloak) a little voice came out of him saying: "Oh! I wish that my mother would come back! Oh! I wish that my mother would come back!" And it seemed as if every one in all that great house had heard him, for they were all running up stairs to see what had happened to him. But when they came into the room there was nothing there but an old pair of breeches lying upon their noses. Whereupon every one said: "What can have become of Jack? Where can be have got to?" But no one ever found out any more about him than that.

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