Jack the Dullard

Jack the Dullard – Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1855)

Out in the country lay an old mansion, and in it lived an old proprietor, who had two sons, which two young men thought themselves too clever by half. They wanted to go out and woo the King’s daughter ; for the maiden in question had publicly announced that she would choose for her husband that one that she thought could best speak for himself.

So these two prepared themselves a full week for the wooing this was the longest time that could be granted them ; but it was enough, for they had previous accomplishments, and these are useful. One of them knew the whole Latin dictionary by heart, and three whole years of the daily paper of the little town, and that either backwards or forwards. The other was deeply read in the corporation laws, and knew by heart what every alderman ought to know ; and accordingly he thought he could talk of affairs of state. And he knew one thing more : he could embroider braces, for he was a tasty, light-fingered fellow.

‘ I shall win the Princess ! ‘ So cried both of them. Therefore their father gave to each a handsome horse. The youth who knew the dictionary and newspaper by heart had a black horse, and he who knew all about the corporation laws received a milk-white steed. Then they rubbed the corners of their mouths with fish-oil, so that they might become very smooth and glib . All the servants stood below in the courtyard, and looked on while they mounted their horses ; and just by chance the third son came up. For there were three of them, though nobody counted the third with his brothers, because he was not so learned as they, and indeed he was generally known as ‘ Jack the Dullard ‘.

‘ Hallo ! ‘ said he, ‘ where are you going since you have put on your best clothes ? ‘

‘ We’re going to the King’s court, as suitors to the King’s daughter. Don’t you know the announcement that has been made all through the country ? ‘ And they told him all about it.

‘ My word ! I’ll be in it too ! ‘ cried Jack the Dullard ; and his two brothers burst out laughing at him, and rode away.

‘Father,’ said Jack, ‘ I must have a horse too. I do feel so desperately inclined to marry ! If she accepts me, she accepts me ; and if she won’t have me, I’ll have her all the same ! ‘

‘ Don’t talk nonsense,’ said the father. ‘ You shall have no horse from me. You don’t know how to speak. Your brothers are very different fellows from you.’

‘ Well,’ quoth Jack the Dullard, ‘ if I can’t have a horse, I’ll take the billy-goat, who belongs to me, and he can carry me very well ! ‘

And so he mounted the billy-goat, pressed his heels into its sides, and gallopped off along the highway.

‘ Hei, houp ! that was a ride ! Here I come ! ‘ shouted Jack the Dullard, and he sang till his voice echoed far and wide.

But his brothers rode slowly on in advance of him. They spoke not a word, for they were thinking all about the fine ideas they would have to bring out, and these had to be cleverly prepared beforehand.

‘ Hallo ! ‘ shouted Jack the Dullard. ‘ Here am I ! Look what I have found on the high road.’ And he showed them a dead crow which he had found.

‘Dullard ! ‘ exclaimed the brothers, ‘ what are you going to do with that ? ‘

‘ I am going to give it to the Princess.’

‘Yes, do so,’ said they ; and they laughed, and rode on.’ ‘ Hallo, here I am again ! Just see what I have found now : you don’t find that on the high road every day ! ‘ And the brothers turned round to see what he could have found now.

‘ Dullard ! ‘ they cried, ‘ that is only an old wooden shoe, and the upper part is missing into the bargain ; are you going to give that also to the Princess ? ‘

‘Most certainly I shall,’ replied Jack the Dullard ; and again the brothers laughed and rode on, and thus they got far in advance of him ; but –

‘ Hallo ! ‘ and there was Jack the Dullard again. ‘ It is getting better and better,’ he cried. ‘ Hurrah ! it is quite famous.’

‘ Why, what have you found this time ? ‘ inquired the brothers.

‘ Oh,’ said Jack the Dullard, ‘ I can hardly tell you. How glad the Princess will be ! ‘

‘ Bah ! ‘ said the brothers ; ‘ that is nothing but clay out of the ditch.’

‘ Yes, certainly it is,’ said Jack the Dullard ; ‘ and clay of the finest sort. See, it is so wet, it runs through one’s fingers.’ And he filled his pocket with the clay.

But his brothers gallopped on as hard as the harness could stand, and consequently they arrived a full hour earlier at the town gate than could Jack. Now at the gate each suitor was provided with a number, and all were placed in rows, six in each row, and so closely packed together that they could not move their arms ; and that was a prudent arrangement, for they would certainly have come to blows, had they been able, merely because one of them stood before the other.

All the inhabitants of the country round about stood in great crowds around the castle, almost under the very windows, to see the Princess receive the suitors ; and as each stepped into the hall, his power of speech seemed to desert him. Then the Princess would say, ‘ He is of no use ! away with him ! ‘

At last the turn came for that brother who knew the dictionary by heart ; but he had absolutely forgotten it ; and the boards seemed to re-echo with his footsteps, and the ceiling of the hall was made of looking-glass, so that he saw himself standing on his head ; and at the window stood three clerks and a head clerk, and every one of them was writing down every single word that was uttered, so that it might be printed in the newspapers, and sold for a penny at the street corners. It was a terrible ordeal, and they had moreover made such a fire in the stove, that the stove-pipe was quite red hot.

‘ It is dreadfully hot here ! ‘ observed the first brother.

‘ Yes,’ replied the Princess, ‘ my father is going to roast young pullets to-day.’

Baa ! there he stood. He had not been prepared for a speech of this kind, and had not a word to say, though he intended to say something witty. Baa !

‘ He is of no use ! ‘ said the Princess. ‘ Away with him ! ‘

And he was obliged to go accordingly. And now the second brother came in.

‘ It is terribly warm here ! ‘ he observed.

‘ Yes, we’re roasting pullets to-day,’ replied the Princess.

‘ What what were you were you pleased to ob stammered he and all the clerks wrote down, ‘ pleased to ob – ‘

‘ He is of no use ! ‘ said the Princess. ‘ Away with him ! ‘

Now came the turn of Jack the Dullard. He rode into the hall on his goat.

‘ Well, it ‘s most desperately hot here.’

‘ Yes, because I’m roasting young pullets,’ replied the Princess.

‘ Ah, that ‘s lucky ! ‘ exclaimed Jack the Dullard, ‘ then I suppose I can get a crow roasted ? ‘

‘ With the greatest pleasure,’ said the Princess. ‘ But have you anything you can roast it in ? for I have neither pot nor pan.’

‘ Certainly I have ! ‘ said Jack. ‘ Here ‘s a cooking utensil with a tin handle.’

And he brought out the old wooden shoe, and put the crow into it.

‘ Well, that is a famous dish ! ‘ said the Princess. ‘ But what shall we do for sauce ? ‘

‘ Oh, I have that in my pocket,’ said Jack : ‘ I have so much of it that I can afford to throw some away ; ‘ and he poured some of the clay out of his pocket.

‘ I like that ! ‘ said the Princess. ‘ You can give an answer, and you have something to say for yourself, and so you shall be my husband. But are you aware that every word we speak is being taken down, and will be published in the paper to-morrow ? You will see in every window three clerks and a head clerk ; and the old head clerk is the worst of all, for he can’t understand anything.

But she only said this to frighten him ; and the clerks gave a great shout of delight, and each one spurted a blot out of his pen on to the floor.

‘ Oh, those are the gentlemen, are they ? ‘ said Jack ; ‘ then I will give the best I have to the head clerk.’ And he turned out his pockets, and flung the wet clay full in the head clerk’s face.

‘ That was very cleverly done,’ observed the Princess. ‘ I could not have done that ; but I shall learn in time.’

And accordingly Jack the Dullard was made a king, and received a crown and a wife, and sat upon a throne. And this report we have straight from the newspaper of the head clerk but it is not to be depended upon !

 Indeks over H.C. Andersens eventyr — Index of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy tales