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The Fairy Tales of Joseph Jacobs

The King of England and his Three Sons

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ONCE upon a time there was an old king who had three sons; and the old king fell very sick one time and there was nothing at all could make him well but some golden apples from a far country. So the three brothers went on horseback to look for some of these apples. They set off together, and when they came to cross-roads they halted and refreshed themselves a bit; and then they agreed to meet on a certain time, and not one was to go home before the other. So Valentine took the right, and Oliver went straight on, and poor Jack took the left.

To make my long story short, I shall follow poor Jack, and let the other two take their chances, for I don't think there was much good in them. Off poor Jack rides over hills, dales, valleys, and mountains, through woolly woods and sheepwalks, where the old chap never sounded his hollow bugle-horn, farther than I can tell you tonight or ever intend to tell you.

At last he came to an old house, near a great forest, and there was an old man sitting out by the door, and his look was enough to frighten you or anyone else; and the old man said to him:

'Good morning, my king's son.'

'Good morning to you, old gentleman,' was the young prince's answer; frightened out of his wits though he was, he didn't like to give in.

The old gentleman told him to dismount and to go in to have some refreshment, and to put his horse in the stable, such as it was. Jack soon felt much better after having something to eat, and began to ask the old gentleman how he knew he was a king's son.

'Oh dear!' said the old man, 'I knew that you were a king's son, and I know what is your business better than what you do yourself. So you will have to stay here tonight; and when you are in bed you mustn't be frightened whatever you may hear. There will come all manner of frogs and snakes, and some will try to get into your eyes and your mouth, but mind, don't stir the least bit or you will turn into one of those things yourself.'

Poor Jack didn't know what to make of this, but, however, he ventured to go to bed. Just as he thought to have a bit of sleep, round and over and under him they came, but he never stirred an inch all night.

'Well, my young son, how are you this morning?'

'Oh, I am very well, thank you, but I didn't have much rest.'

'Well, never mind that; you have got on very well so far, but you have a great deal to go through before you can have the golden apples to go to your father. You'd better come and have some breakfast before you start on your way to my other brother's house. You will have to leave your own horse here with me until you come back again, and tell me everything about how you get on.'

After that out came a fresh horse for the young prince, and the old man gave him a ball of yarn, and he flung it between the horse's two ears.

Off he went as fast as the wind, which the wind behind could not catch the wind before, until he came to the second oldest brother's house. When he rode up to the door he had the same salute as from the first old man, but this one was even uglier than the first one. He had long grey hair, and his teeth were curling out of his mouth, and his finger- and toe-nails had not been cut for many thousand years. He put the horse into a much better stable, and called Jack in, and gave him plenty to eat and drink, and they had a bit of a chat before they went to bed.

'Well, my young son,' said the old man, 'I suppose you are one of the king's children come to look for the golden apples to bring him back to health.'

'Yes, I am the youngest of the three brothers, and I should like to get them to go back with.'

'Well, don't mind, my young son. Before you go to bed tonight I will send to my eldest brother, and will tell him what you want, and he won't have much trouble in sending you on to the place where you must get the apples. But mind not to stir tonight no matter how you get bitten and stung, or else you will work great mischief to yourself.'

The young man went to bed and bore all, as he did the first night, and got up the next morning well and hearty. After a good breakfast out comes a fresh horse, and a ball of yarn to throw between his ears. The old man told him to jump up quick, and said that he had made it all right with his eldest brother, not to delay for anything whatever, 'For,' said he, 'you have a good deal to go through with in a very short and quick time.'

He flung the ball, and off he goes as quick as lightning, and comes to the eldest brother's house. The old man received him very kindly and told him he long wished to see him, and that he would go through his work like a man and come back safe and sound. 'Tonight,' said he, 'I will give you rest; there shall nothing come to disturb you, so that you may not feel sleepy for tomorrow. And you must mind to get up middling early, for you've got to go and come all in the same day; there will be no place for you to rest within thousands of miles of that place; and if there was, you would stand in great danger never to come from there in your own form. Now, my young prince, mind what I tell you. Tomorrow, when you come in sight of a very large castle, which will be surrounded with black water, the first thing you will do you will tie your horse to a tree, and you will see three beautiful swans in sight, and you will say, "Swan, swan, carry me over in the name of the Griffin of the Greenwood", and the swans will swim you over to the earth. There will be three great entrances, the first guarded by four giants with drawn swords in their hands, the second by lions, the other by fiery serpents and dragons. You will have to be there exactly at one o'clock; and mind and leave there precisely at two, and not a moment later. When the swans carry you over to the castle, you will pass all these things, all fast asleep, but you must not notice any of them.

'When you go in, you will turn up to the right; you will see some grand rooms, then you will go downstairs through the cooking kitchen, and through a door on your left you go into a garden, where you will find the apples you want for your father to get well. After you fill your wallet, you make all speed you possibly can, and call out for the swans to carry you over the same as before. After you get on your horse, should you hear anything shouting or making any noise after you, be sure not to look back, as they will follow you for thousands of miles; but when the time is up and you get near my place, it will all be over. Well now, my young man, I have told you all you have to do tomorrow; and mind, whatever you do, don't look about you when you see all those frightful things asleep. Keep a good heart, and make haste from there, and come back to me with all the speed you can. I should like to know how my two brothers were when you left them, and what they said to you about me.'

'Well, to tell the truth, before I left London my father was sick, and said I was to come here to look for the golden apples, for they were the only things that would do him good; and when I came to your youngest brother, he told me many things I had to do before I came here. And I thought once that your youngest brother put me in the wrong bed, when he put all those snakes to bite me all night long, until your second brother told me "So it was to be", and said, "It is the same here", but said you had none in your beds.'

'Well, let's go to bed. You need not fear. There are no snakes here.'

The young man went to bed, and had a good night's rest, and got up the next morning as fresh as newly caught trout. Breakfast being over, out comes the other horse, and, while saddling and fettling, the old man began to laugh, and told the young gentleman that if he saw a pretty young lady, not to stay with her too long, because she might waken, and then he would have to stay with her or to be turned into one of those unearthly monsters, like those he would have to pass by going into the castle.

'Ha! ha! ha! you make me laugh so that I can scarcely buckle the saddle-straps. I think I shall make it all right, my uncle, if I see a young lady there, you may depend.'

'Well, my boy, I shall see how you will get on.'

So he mounts his Arab steed, and off he goes like a shot out of a gun. At last he comes in sight of the castle. He ties his horse safe to a tree, and pulls out his watch. It was then a quarter to one, when he called out, 'Swan, swan, carry me over, in the name of the old Griffin of the Greenwood.' No sooner said than done. A swan under each side, and one in front, took him over in a crack. He got on his legs, and walked quietly by all those giants, lions, fiery serpents, and all manner of other frightful things too numerous to mention, while they were fast asleep, and that only for the space of one hour, when into the castle he goes neck or nothing. Turning to the right, upstairs he runs, and enters into a very grand bedroom, and sees a beautiful princess lying full stretch on a gold bedstead, fast asleep. He gazed on her beautiful form with admiration, and he takes her garter off, and buckles it on his own leg, and he buckles his on hers; he also takes her gold watch and pocket-handkerchief, and exchanges his for hers; after that he ventures to give her a kiss, when she very nearly opens her eyes. Seeing the time short, off he runs downstairs, and passing through the kitchen to go into the garden for the apples, he could see the cook all-fours on her back on the middle of the floor, with the knife in one hand and the fork in the other. He found the apples, and filled the wallet; and on passing through the kitchen the cook near wakened, but he was obliged to make all the speed he possibly could, as the time was nearly up. He called out for the swans, and they managed to take him over; but they found that he was a little heavier than before. No sooner than he had mounted his horse he could hear a tremendous noise, the enchantment was broke, and they tried to follow him, but all to no purpose. He was not long before he came to the oldest brother's house; and glad enough he was to see it, for the sight and the noise of all those things that were after him nearly frightened him to death.

'Welcome, my boy; I am proud to see you. Dismount and put the horse in the stable, and come in and have some refreshments; I know you are hungry after all you have gone through in that castle. And tell me all you did, and all you saw there. Other kings' sons went by here to go to that castle, but they never came back alive, and you are the only one that ever broke the spell. And now you must come with me, with a sword in your hand, and must cut my head off, and must throw it in that well.'

The young prince dismounts, and puts his horse in the stable, and they go in to have some refreshments, for I can assure you he wanted some; and after telling everything that passed, which the old gentleman was very pleased to hear, they both went for a walk together, the young prince looking around and seeing the place looking dreadful, as did the old man. He could scarcely walk from his toe-nails curling up like ram's horns that had not been cut for many hundred years, and big long hair. They come to a well, and the old man gives the prince a sword, and tells him to cut his head off, and throw it in that well. The young man has to do it against his wish, but has to do it.

No sooner has he flung the head in the well, than up springs one of the finest young gentlemen you would wish to see; and instead of the old house and the frightful-looking place, it was changed into a beautiful hall and grounds. And they went back and enjoyed themselves well, and had a good laugh about the castle.

The young prince leaves this young gentleman in all his glory, and he tells the prince before leaving that he will see him again before long. They have a jolly shake-hands, and off he goes to the next oldest brother; and, to make my long story short, he has to serve the other two brothers the same as the first.

Now the youngest brother began to ask him how things went on. 'Did you see my two brothers?'


'How did they look?'

'Oh! they looked very well. I liked them much. They told me many things what to do.'

'Well, did you go to the castle?'

'Yes, my uncle.'

'And will you tell me what you see in there? Did you see the young lady?'

'Yes, I saw her, and plenty of other frightful things.'

'Did you hear any snake biting you in my oldest brother's bed?'

'No, there were none there; I slept well.'

'You won't have to sleep in the same bed tonight. You will have to cut my head off in the morning.'

The young prince had a good night's rest, and changed all the appearance of the place by cutting his friend's head off before he started in the morning. A jolly shake-hands, and the uncle tells him it's very probable he shall see him again soon when he is not aware of it. This one's mansion was very pretty, and the country around it beautiful, after his head was cut off. Off Jack goes, over hills, dales, valleys, and mountains, and very near losing his apples again.

At last he arrives at the cross-roads, where he had to meet his brothers, on the very day appointed. Coming up to the place, he sees no tracks of horses, and, being very tired, he lays himself down to sleep, by tying the horse to his leg, and putting the apples under his head. Presently up come the other brothers the same time to the minute, and found him fast asleep; and they would not waken him, but said one to another, 'Let us see what sort of apples he has got under his head.' So they took and tasted them, and found they were different to theirs. They took and changed his apples for theirs, and off to London as fast as they could, and left the poor fellow sleeping.

After a while he awoke, and, seeing the tracks of other horses, he mounted and off with him, not thinking anything about the apples being changed. He had still a long way to go, and by the time he got near London he could hear all the bells in the town ringing, but did not know what was the matter till he rode up to the palace, when he came to know that his father was recovered by his brothers' apples. When he got there his two brothers were off to some sports for a while; and the king was glad to see his youngest son, and very anxious to taste his apples. But when he found out that they were not good, and thought that they were more for poisoning him, he sent immediately for the headsman to behead his youngest son, who was taken away there and then in a carriage. But instead of the headsman taking his head off, he took him to a forest not far from the town, because he had pity on him, and there left him to take his chance, when presently up comes a big hairy bear, limping upon three legs. The prince, poor fellow, climbed up a tree, frightened of him, but the bear told him to come down, that it was no use of him to stop here. With hard persuasion poor Jack comes down, and the bear speaks to him and bids him: 'Come here to me; I will not do you any harm. It's better for you to come with me and have some refreshments; I know that you are hungry all this time.'

The poor young prince says, 'No, I am not hungry; but I was very frightened when I saw you coming to me first, as I had no place to run away from you.'

The bear said, 'I was also afraid of you when I saw that gentleman setting you down from the carriage. I thought you would have guns with you, and that you would not mind killing me if you saw me; but when I saw the gentleman going away with the carriage, and leaving you behind by yourself, I made bold to come to you, to see who you were, and now I know who you are very well. Are you not the king's youngest son? I have seen you and your brothers and lots of other gentlemen in this wood many times. Now before we go from here, I must tell you that I am in disguise; and I shall take you where we are stopping.'

The young prince tells him everything from first to last, how he started in search of the apples, and about the three old men, and about the castle, and how he was served at last by his father after he came home; and instead of the headsman taking his head off, he was kind enough to leave him his life, 'and here I am now, under your protection.'

The bear tells him, 'Come on, my brother; there shall no harm come to you as long as you are with me.'

So he takes him up to the tents; and when they see 'em coming, the girls begin to laugh, and say, 'Here is our Jubal coming with a young gentleman.' When he advanced nearer the tents, they all knew that he was the young prince that had passed by that way many times before; and when Jubal went to change himself, he called most of them together into one tent, and told them all about him, and to be kind to him. And so they were, for there was nothing that he desired but what he had, the same as if he was in the palace with his father and mother. Jubal, after he pulled off his hairy coat, was one of the finest young men amongst them, and he was the young prince's closest companion. The young prince was always very sociable and merry, only when he thought of the gold watch he had from the young princess in the castle, and which he had lost he knew not where.

He passed off many happy days in the forest; but one day he and poor Jubal were strolling through the trees, when they came to the very spot where they first met, and, accidentally looking up, he could see his watch hanging in the tree which he had to climb when he first saw poor Jubal coming to him in the form of a bear; and he cries out, 'Jubal, Jubal, I can see my watch up in that tree.'

'Well, I am sure, how lucky!' exclaimed poor Jubal, 'shall I go and get it down?'

'No, I'd rather go myself,' said the young prince.

Now whilst all this was going on, the young princess in that castle, seeing that one of the King of England's sons had been there by the changing of the watch and other things, got herself ready with a large army, and sailed off for England. She left her army a little out of the town, and she went with her guards straight up to the palace to see the king, and also demanded to see his sons. They had a long conversation together about different things. At last she demands one of the sons to come before her; and the oldest comes, when she asks him, 'Have you ever been at the Castle of Melvales?' and he answers, 'Yes.' She throws down a pocket handkerchief and bids him to walk over it without stumbling. He goes to walk over it, and no sooner did he put his foot on it, than he fell down and broke his leg. He was taken off immediately and made a prisoner of by her own guards. The other was called upon, and was asked the same questions, and had to go through the same performance, and he also was made a prisoner of. Now she says, 'Have you not another son?' when the king began to [to] shiver and shake and knock his two knees together that he could scarcely stand upon his legs, and did not know what to say to her, he was so much frightened. At last a thought came to him to send for his headsman, and inquire of him particularly, Did he behead his son, or was he alive?

'He is saved, O King.'

'Then bring him here immediately, or else I shall be done for.'

Two of the fastest horses they had were put in the carriage, to go and look for the poor prince; and when they got to the very spot where they left him, it was the time when the prince was up the tree, getting his watch down, and poor Jubal standing a distance off. They cried out to him, Had he seen another young man in this wood? Jubal, seeing such a nice carriage, thought something, and did not like to say No, and said Yes, and pointed up the tree; and they told him to come down immediately, as there was a young lady in search of him.

'Ha! ha! ha! Jubal, did you ever hear such a thing in all your life, my brother?'

'Do you call him your brother?'

'Well, he has been better to me than my brothers.'

'Well, for his kindness he shall accompany you to the palace, and see how things turn out.'

After they go to the palace, the prince has a good wash, and appears before the princess, when she asks him, Had he ever been at the Castle of Melvales? With a smile upon his face, he gives a graceful bow. And says my lady, 'Walk over that handkerchief without stumbling.' He walks over it many times, and dances upon it, and nothing happened to him. She said, with a proud and smiling air, 'That is the young man'; and out come the objects exchanged by both of them. Presently she orders a very large box to be brought in and to be opened, and out come some of the most costly uniforms that were ever worn on an emperor's back; and when he dressed himself up, the king could scarcely look upon him from the dazzling of the gold and diamonds on his coat. He orders his two brothers to be in confinement for a period of time; and before the princess asks him to go with her to her own country, she pays a visit to the bear's camp, and she makes some very handsome presents for their kindness to the young prince. And she gives Jubal an invitation to go with them, which he accepts; wishes them a hearty farewell for a while, promising to see them all again in some little time.

They go back to the king and bid farewell, and tell him not to be so hasty another time to order people to be beheaded before having a proper cause for it. Off they go with all their army with them; but while the soldiers were striking their tents, the prince bethought himself of his Welsh harp, and had it sent for immediately to take with him in a beautiful wooden case. They called to see each of those three brothers whom the prince had to stay with when he was on his way to the Castle of Melvales; and I can assure you, when they all got together, they had a very merry time of it. And there we will leave them.

Jacobs' Notes and References

SOURCE Mr F. Hindes Groome, In Gypsy Tents, told him by John Roberts, a Welsh gypsy, with a few slight changes and omission of passages insisting upon the gypsy origin of the three helpful brothers.

PARALLELS The king and his three sons are familiar figures in European märchen. Slavonic parallels are enumerated by Leskien Brugman in their Lithauische Märchen, notes on No. II, p. 542. The Sleeping Beauty is, of course, found in Perrault.

REMARKS The tale is scarcely a good example for Mr Hindes Groome's contention (in Transactions Folk-Lore Congress) for the diffusion of all folk-tales by means of gypsies as colporteurs. This is merely a matter of evidence, and of evidence there is singularly little, though it is indeed curious that one of Campbell's best-equipped informants should turn out to be a gypsy. Even this fact, however, is not too well substantiated.

Jacobs, Joseph, ed. More English Fairy Tales. New York: G. P Putnam's Sons, 1894.
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