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English fairy tale: Friar and the Boy
by [?]

‘You good-for-nothing boy, you! It’s always meal-times when you come home: that’s all you care about here. Look at the knees of your trousers; why, playing marbles in the street with all the other filthy little brats is about all you’re fit for. How d’you think I’m going to spend all my time patching up your holes and tatters? Drat you! Get out of it and wipe your boots before you come into a clean kitchen. I’ve been all the afternoon tidying up for the good Friar’s visit this evening, and now you—-‘

‘Hang the good Friar!’ said Jack under his breath, for he was sick and tired of his stepmother’s sour tongue, and more than sick and tired of the good Friar, who, he knew, was only ‘good’ when he was not feeling well. Taking a fairy-tale book from the shelf he went and sat in the inglenook, thus sheltering himself from a further storm of abuse from his stepmother.

The fact of the matter was, that thrice upon a time his father had married. Jack, a merry-hearted boy, and lovable for all his mischief, was his son by his first wife. The other two had no children, and the stepmother now living seemed to resent the fact of Jack’s existence. His father loved him dearly, but, when the father was away, Jack had a sore time with his sour-tempered stepmother. No wonder he only came home to meals; no wonder he preferred his fairy-tale book to her venomous tongue.

When supper-time came, Jack was always summoned to his food well in time for it to be cleared away before his father came in; and the reason for this was that his father should not see how he was stinted.

But one day the father got to know about these things, and taxed his wife on her treatment of the boy.

‘Look here, sir,’ said she, ‘I wish to goodness you would take your wretched son away and put him in a school for saints, since you think he is so good. As for me, he plagues my life out, and, if you keep him here with his ne’er-do-well ways, you’ll come home some evening to find me gone.’

Instead of beating his wife for these words–as some men do when their wives so beseech them–the goodman put his hand on her shoulder and said, ‘Nay, nay, my dear; the boy is only a boy; let him stay with us another year until he can fend for himself. Now, I’ll tell you what: let the man who looks after the sheep come in here and do the work about the house, and Jack will take his place in the field. The man can have Jack’s bed, and Jack will be delighted to sleep in the outhouse. What say you?’

The wife could not object to this, for, at least, the man would be more useful and less troublesome about the house than Jack could ever be. So she agreed to her husband’s proposal.

The next day the plan was put into operation.

The man was set to work about the house, and Jack was sent out into the fields to mind the sheep. As he went he sang merrily, for he loved the green fields and the animals. He doubted the dinner his stepmother had put up for him, wrapped in a kitchen clout; yet he sang merrily as he went in search of the sheep:

‘Green gravel! Green gravel!
Thy grass is so green.
‘Tis the fairies’ green gravel
With the daisies between.’

Then, when he had found them:

‘Snowy sheepie-woolsides,
Save your wool for me;
Then in snowy yuletides
Snug and warm I’ll be.’

Then, later, when he began to get hungry, it was:

‘Sheepie, wander, wander
All the fields about;
Grass is growing under,
Clover budding out.
My mother does not squander
Cakes on me, I doubt;
What is here, I wonder,
In this kitchen clout?’