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Jack Dreadnought

Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

A poor widow had a son who was so courageous that not even the devil's
mother would have frightened him, and therefore he was named in his
childhood Jack Dreadnought. His mother was in continual terror lest
something dreadful might happen to her son, as he was so plucky, nay
foolhardy, and determined to use all possible means to teach him to
fear. For this reason she sent him to the clergyman of the village as
"mendicant," and requested the minister to use all his knowledge in
trying to teach her son to fear. The clergyman left nothing untried to
make the boy frightened; he told him all sorts of ghostly and horrible
tales, but these, instead of frightening the lad, made him only more
anxious to make the acquaintance of ghosts similar to those mentioned in
the tales. The clergyman thereupon hit upon the idea of introducing some
sham ghosts in order to break Jack Dreadnought's intrepidity.

He fixed upon the three nights before Christmas; on these nights the lad
had to go to ring the bells at midnight in the tower that stood at the
very end of the village, and the clergyman thought that he could find
some opportunity of frightening Jack. He took an old cassock and stuffed
it with straw and placed it before the tower door with one hand on the
handle. Midnight came and Jack went to ring the bells and discovered the
dummy in the cassock. "Who are you?" he called out, but received no
reply. "Very well," said the boy, "if you won't answer I will tell you
this, that if you don't clear off from that door I'll kick you in the
stomach that you will turn twelve somersaults." As there was no reply,
Jack in his rage took hold of the dummy's collar and threw him on the
ground with such violence that it rolled away three fathoms, and then,
as if nothing had happened, went up into the tower, rang the bells, and
went home. The clergyman, as his first experiment did not succeed, made
two dummies the next day, which were exactly alike; one he placed in the
same position as before at the door of the tower, the other near the
bell ropes.

At midnight Jack again went to ring the bells and, as before, made short
work of the first dummy; as he did not receive any reply he took him by
the collar and threw him on the ground. When he went up into the tower
and saw that the rope was held by another, he thought it was the first
one, and thus addressed him, "Well, my friend, you've come here, have
you? You hadn't enough with the first fall? Answer me or I will dash you
on the ground so that you will not be able to get up again," and as the
dummy did not reply Jack took it by the throat and pitched it from the
window of the tower, and it whizzed through the air. The clergyman had
had two unsuccessful experiments but he had great confidence in the
third. He made three dummies this time, two were placed as before and
the third he stood on the bell so that it might prevent it ringing.
Jack Dreadnought dealt with the two first dummies as on the previous
night, but as he was about to ring, to his astonishment, he discovered
the dummy on the bell; he was not frightened, but when he saw that it
would not come down, after a polite request, took it angrily by one leg
and pitched it through the window like a cat. The clergyman had now come
to the conclusion that he was unable to teach Jack fear, and now
commenced to plan how he might get rid of him. The next morning he
called him, and thus spoke to him: "Jack, you are a fine courageous
fellow; go, take my grey horse, and as much provisions as you think will
last you three days, and go into the world and follow your nose; do not
stop all day, but take up your night quarters wherever darkness finds
you. Do this for three days, and settle down where you spend the third
night, and you will be prosperous."

The clergyman thought that Jack would perish on the way; but we shall
see whether he did. Jack started off the first day, and in the evening
came to a narrow, round timber hut, which was rather high, and he
decided to sleep there. As he found it empty he made a fire in its
centre and commenced to fry some bacon; all of a sudden he felt
something dripping, he looked up and saw something like a human form
dangling in the air. "Well, upon my word," shouted he, "the devil won't
leave me alone even here: get down from there, will you, or do you
expect me to take you down?" No reply came, and Jack, with a clever
jump, caught hold of one of his legs, and brought it down, but the head
was torn off and fell down. Only then he discovered that it was a hanged
man, but he did not think much of it, and stayed there all night. He
travelled the whole of the next day; in the evening he reached an inn
and asked for a room, and received in reply that they had an empty room
on the upper floor, the only one vacant; but that no one could sleep
there, as the place was haunted. "What!" shouted Jack; "Oh! I know those
ghosts; let me have a dish of good food, a mouthful of good wine, and a
burning candle in the upper room, and I will sleep there. I swear by
Beelzebub that the ghosts will come no more!" The innkeeper tried to
dissuade Jack from his foolhardy attempt, but he would not give way.

He was shown into the room; it was a large apartment on the upper floor.
Jack placed the lighted candle in the middle; a dishful of food and a
jug of wine by the side of it; and settled down in a chair, waiting for
the awful ghosts. No sooner had the clock struck midnight than, all of a
sudden, a fearful chorus of animal noises was to be heard, like the
howling of dogs, neighing of horses, bellowing of cattle, roaring of
wild beasts, bleating of sheep and of goats, and also crying, laughing,
and clanking of chains. Jack was quite delighted with the nocturnal
concert; but, all of a sudden a big skull rolled in through the door and
stopped by the side of the dish. Jack stared at it, and, instead of the
skull, he saw an old monk standing before him with long heavy chains.
"Good evening, brother friar!" shouted Jack, "pray have supper with me."
"I'm going from here," said the friar, "and I want you to come too; I
will show you something." "With pleasure," replied Jack, "will you lead
the way, you devil, or you reverend gentleman?" Thereupon Jack followed
the friar with the lighted candle. When they arrived at the stairs the
friar insisted upon his going first, but Jack would not; and the friar
was obliged to lead the way. Next they came to a narrow landing at the
top of the cellar stairs. Here, again, the friar invited him to go
first, but he would not; and so the apparition had to go first. But, as
soon as he went down a few steps, Jack gave the friar such a push with
such dexterity that he went head over heels down the steps and broke his
neck. In the morning the innkeeper had the friar buried. He made Jack a
handsome present, and the latter continued his journey.

Jack Dreadnought rode the whole next day, and in the evening again came
to an inn, where he could not get any room except up stairs, where no
one else would sleep, on account of ghostly visitors. Jack took the room
and was again enjoying his supper in the centre, when the old clock
struck midnight. The same sort of music struck his ear as on the
previous night, and, amid a great crash, a human hand dropped from the
ceiling to near his dish. Jack, in cold blood, took up the hand and
threw it behind the door. Another hand fell and went the same way. Now a
leg came, and this, too, went behind the door. Then came its fellow,
which was soon despatched to the rest. At last a big skull dropped right
into the middle of the dish and broke it. Jack got into a rage, and
threw the skull violently behind the door; and, on looking back, he
found, instead of the limbs, an immense ghost standing behind the door,
whom Jack at once taxed with the damage done to the dish, demanding
payment. The ghost replied, "Very well; I will pay for it, if you come
with me." Jack consented, and they went off together; as before, he
always insisted on the ghost going first. They came to a long winding
staircase, and down into a huge cellar. Jack opened his eyes and mouth
wide when he found in the cellar three vats full of gold, six vats of
silver, and twelve vats of copper coins. Then the ghost said to him,
"There, choose a vat full of coins for your dish, and take it whenever
you like." But Jack, however, did not touch the money, but replied, "Not
I; do you suppose that I will carry that money? Whoever brought it here,
let him take it away." "Well done," replied the ghost; "I see I've found
my man at last. Had you touched the treasure you would have died a
sudden death; but now, since you are such a fine courageous fellow, the
like of whom I have never seen before, settle down in this place and
use the treasure in peace; nobody will ever disturb or haunt you any
more." After these words the ghost disappeared.

Jack became the owner of the immense treasure, and married the
innkeeper's only daughter, who was very pretty, and lives with her to
this day, if he has not died since, enjoying life and spending the money
he found in the vats in the cellar.

Next: The Secret-keeping Little Boy And His Little Sword

Previous: The Devil And The Red Cap

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