In the County of Cumberland lived a nobleman who had three sons. Two of them were fine and clever yong men, but the other was a natural fool, named Jack. He was usually in charge of the sheep: he was dressed in a colored coat, and a steeple-crowned hat with a tassel. Now the King of Canterbury had a beautiful daughter, who was distinguished by her great ingenuity and wit, and he issued a decree that whoever should answer three questions asked to them by the princess should marry her and be heir to the crown when he passes away..
Shortly after this decree was published, news of it reached the ears of the nobleman’s sons, and the two clever ones decided to try, but they couldn’t prevent their idiot brother from going with them. They could not get rid of him in any way and were finally forced to let Jack accompany them. They had not gone far, before Jack laughed and said, “I found an egg.” “Put it in your pocket,” said the brothers. Afterwards, he burst out into another fit of laughter on finding a crooked hazel stick, which he also put in his pocket; and a third time he again laughed because he found a nut. That also was put with his other treasures.
When they arrived at the palace, they were immediately explained why they came, and were led into a room where the princess and her suite were sitting. Jack, who never stood on ceremony, shouted, “What a troop of fair ladies we’ve got here!”
“Yes,” said the princess, “we are fair ladies, for we carry fire in our chests.”
“Do you?” said Jack, “then roast me an egg,” pulling out the egg from his pocket.
“How will you get it out again?” said the princess.
“With a crooked stick,” replied Jack, producing the hazel.
“Where did that come from?” said the princess.
“From a nut,” answered Jack, pulling out the nut from his pocket. “I’ve answered the three questions, and now I’ll have the lady.” “No, no,” said the king, “not so fast. You have still another test to go through. You must come here in a week and stay for one whole night with the princess, my daughter. If you can manage to keep awake the whole night, you will marry her next day.”
“But if I can’t?” said Jack.
“Then off goes your head,” said the king. “But you need not try unless you want.”
Well, Jack went back home for a week, and thought over whether he should try and win the princess. At last he made up his mind. “Well,” said Jack, “I will try my luck.”
Taking his bottle and bag, he headed to the court. On the way he had to cross a river, and pulling off his shoes and stockings, while he was passing over, he observed several pretty fish bouncing against his feet. So, he decided to catch some and put them into his pocket. When he reached the palace, he knocked at the gate loudly with his crook, and having mentioned why he came, he was immediately led to the hall where the king’s daughter sat prepared to see her lovers. He was placed in a luxurious chair, and rich wines and spices were set before him, and all sorts of delicate meats. Jack, unused to so much fine food, ate and drank a lot, so much that he was nearly asleep before midnight.
“Oh, shepherd,” said the lady, “I have caught you napping!”
“No, sweet princess, I was busy fishing.”
“Fishing,” said the princess greatly surprised, “No, shepherd, there is no fish-pond in the hall.”
“No matter about that, I have been fishing in my pocket, and have just caught one.”
“Oh my!” she said, “let me see it.”
The shepherd drew the fish out of his pocket and pretending to have caught it, showed it her, and she declared it was the finest she ever saw.
About half an hour afterwards, she said, “Shepherd, do you think you could get me one more?”
He replied, “Maybe I may, when I have baited my hook;” and after a little while he brought out another, which was finer than the first one, and the princess was so delighted that she gave him leave to go to sleep, and promised to excuse him to her father.
In the morning the princess told the king, to his great surprise, that Jack must not be beheaded, for he had been fishing in the hall all night; but when he heard how Jack had caught such beautiful fish out of his pocket, he asked him to catch one in his own.
Jack readily did the task, and asking the king to lie down, he pretended to fish in his pocket, having another fish hidden ready in his hand, and giving him a sly prick with a needle, he held up the fish, and showed it to the king.
His majesty did not much enjoy the operation, but he agreed to the marvel of it, and the princess and Jack married the same day, and lived for many years in happiness.