Mother's Darling Jack

Once upon a time something happened. If it had not happened it would not be told.

There was once a man who had a child. This child was the youngest of seven which the Lord had given him, so it was destined from its birth to be lucky. It was christened John, because all dunces and upstarts are named John. The father loved little Jack like the very apple of his eye. It could not have been otherwise, since the boy was the youngest of seven children and the smallest, chubbiest, and fattest of them all. But the father doesn't count for every thing. He comes and goes, appears and vanishes, the house is only a sleeping-place for him. The mother is the real soul of the household; she bathes one, feeds another, and scrubs for a third. Jack was his mother's boy, his mother's pet, his mother's darling, his mother's handsomest and brightest child.

They say it is not well for one person to be every thing, the lowest to be highest, and the child to govern the house. Jack grew larger every day, and the larger he grew the more quarrelsome, obstinate, and consequently self-willed he became. So there was often, nay, to tell the whole truth, very often, anger in the house on the boy's account. Jack daily heard some harsh word; but as it proved that words made no impression, punishment frequently followed. Ah! but Jack was the youngest of seven. The one who punished suffered, not the one who was chastised. If the father whipped Jack, the mother wiped away his tears; if the mother slapped him, she took care not to let her husband know it. It is a bad example, when a child breaks a pot, for the mother to set to work to pick up the pieces; things are then in a bad way, and it is well not to waste another word about them.

So it ended. Jack became a very disobedient child, and disobedience avenges itself on the disobedient. If his father wanted to teach him anything, and said: "My dear Jack, look, do it so, this is right; this is the way oxen are harnessed in front of carts, this is the way the nail is driven into the wheel, this is the way sacks are carried," and other useful lessons, Jack's mind was fixed on other things, and he replied, "Oh! let me alone." And so from one "Oh! let me alone," to another "Oh! let me alone," Jack grew into a big boy without having even learned so much as that a plow has handles, a mill is not a mortar, and a cow is not an ox. And he couldn't do much in this way.

One day his father was preparing to go to the fair. Every thing was ready except one pin, which had not yet been put through the yoke.

"Father," said Jack, "I'm coming with you."

"It will be better for you to stay at home, that you may not be lost in the market," replied his father.

"I want to go—"

"I won't take you."

"I will go."

"I won't take you."

Every body knows what forward children are. The instant they are told that a thing can't be had, they want to seize it by force. His father could not help himself, so he set Jack in the wagon and drove off with him to the fair.

"Mind," he said, "you must keep close to me." "Yes, father," said Jack, obediently, for the first time in the memory of the family. And until they reached the end of the village, Jack sat as if he were nailed to the back of the cart. At the end of the village he put out one foot, then he raised his head and began to look around him. Finally he stood up, leaned on the side of the cart, and began to watch the wheels. He could not understand how one wheel moved of its own accord, how one spoke hurried after another, constantly going forward without stirring from the spot, nay, without moving from under his own nose.

They reached the woods. Jack perked up his nose and stared with his mouth wide open. The trees on the right and left set out and ran with all their might, one after another. There must be witchcraft in it. Jack jumped out of the cart and again felt the solid ground under his feet. But he once more stood with his mouth wide open. The trees now stood still, but the cart moved on further and further. "Stop, father, stop, so I can see how the wheels turn," the boy called after a while.

But now his hair fairly bristled with fear. He heard his shout repeated from ten different directions, while his father drove on without noticing his cry. "Father!" he called again, and again he heard the word ten times. Jack was terribly frightened, and seeing that no place was as pleasant as home, began to run back there. Nothing but a cloud of dust could be seen behind him. He ran on and on toward home till he turned into the wrong road.

Now you can see how unfortunate it is for inexperienced people not to listen to the advice of wiser ones! Jack had done wrong in trying to run home when he did not know the way through the forest. He ran for a long time, then gradually slackened his pace and at last began to walk, but kept on through forest after forest, across a meadow, and through the woods again, then across another meadow, till he was completely tired out, and weary of his life.

"Lord, have mercy on me, I will always be obedient in future," he cried, at last—and his heart must have been very heavy when he uttered such words.

After that he did not walk much further. A short distance off, on the edge of the woods, stood a village. Jack jumped for joy when he saw it, and did not stop till he was in the middle of it. Then he went from house to house, and the further he went the more he wondered that he found all kinds of houses except his own home. He did not know what to do, and began to cry.

"What are you crying about, my son?" asked a man who was coming back from the fields in front of a cart drawn by four oxen.

Jack told his story, and the man pitied him. "What is your name?" asked the kind-hearted peasant. "Jack," replied the boy.

"But your father, what is his name?"