This is one of many “Jack Tales”, born long ago in the British highlands and brought to America with the early Scots-Irish and Welsh settlers. Surviving as oral tales in the hollows of the Appalachians for generations, “collectors” of folklife began to write them down only in the mid-twentieth century. Jack, the hero of most of the tales, is usually a young fellow who gets himself into and out of situations by his wit, plain good luck, or often by a bit of magic. Enjoy.
One time there was a King who really liked to hear stories; he liked to hear really long stories. The King put out the word that he would give his daughter in marriage and half of everything he owned to the fella who could tell him the longest story. He had a big old sand glass, took two hours for the sand to run through it, and he would set that up when a fella started to tell him a story. If the story ended before the sand ran out, well then the teller would just have to up and join the King’s army. A lot of folks came and tried, but they all failed. Their stories always ran out before the King’s sand glass did. So he had the biggest army around – weren’t none of the other Kings’ armies could measure up.
Well by and by, old Jack got wind of the King’s offer, and thought he would give it a try. After all he was a pretty good hand at telling a tale. So one day he stuck his whittlin’ knife in his pocket and went on up to where the King lived. Knocked right on the King’s door he did and said he was there to tell him a story.
The King invited him in, set him down and set up his big old sand glass. Jack took out his whittlin’ knife, picked him up a stick, and commenced whittlin’ and tellin’ a story, and this was it.
Once upon a time there was a King who decided that he wanted to store up enough corn in his warehouse to feed everyone in his kingdom for three years. So come harvest time he ordered all the farmers to bring in almost all of their corn and put it in his warehouse. He only left them barely enough to get by. He did this the next year too until his warehouse was full to bursting. It was a good big warehouse, except it had one little bitty hole in the northwest corner.
One day a little field mouse found that hole, and crept in and got one kernel of that corn and took it back to it’s nest and hid it away. Then the mouse went back through that hole and got a second kernel of corn and took it back to the nest. Then that little mouse went back through that little hole and got another kernel of corn and took it back. Well what do you think happened next? Yep, that little mouse went back and got another kernel of corn. Then it went back through that little bitty hole and got another kernel of corn and took it back to the nest. After that the mouse went back and got another kernel of corn.
Well the story went on and on and on like this til the sand in the King’s glass was just about run out. Finally the King hollered out, “When are you ever going to get to the good part?”
“It’s coming, King,” said Jack. “But it will take about another week for the mouse to empty out that warehouse.”
“Confound it and bedad!” said the King. “You’ve beat me. You can marry my daughter!” And that’s just what Jack did. True to his word, the King gave them half of his fortune too, so Jack and the King’s girl got married and they were getting along just fine, at least they were the last time I was down that way.
[The story above is just one of many many “Jack Tales”, about a young hero/trickster named Jack, that originated in the British highlands and came to America with the early settlers who populated the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians.]