Periwinkle

Once upon a time there was a poor farmer who had a wife and seven sons. One day, the youngest son realized there was little of promise in the village for him, so he determined to set off to seek his fortune.

When Jack, for that was the boy’s name, told his parents he was leaving to seek his fortune his mother wept and his father looked stern and sad, but they both knew as well as Jack that one less mouth would be a blessing and not a burden. So they wished Jack the best of luck, and his mother wrapped up some bread and cheese for him, and his father gave him an old pocketknife, and Jack set off.

Jack walked over hill and dale through the day, and at last the sat down beside the road to have a bite of lunch. He was just opening his bundle when he heard a strange sound from the woods by the road. He stopped and listened, and soon he heard someone singing. Well, Jack was weary and Jack was hungry, but Jack was curious, too. So he wrapped up his cheese and his bread and picked up his bundle and made his way into the woods.

Soon enough Jack came upon a little clearing, and in the middle of the clearing there was a little fire, and by the fire sat an odd little man. He was dressed in rags poorer than Jack’s, and he was no taller than a tree stump, and almost as big around, and his eyes sparkled blue. And when Jack came to the clearing the little man stopped his singing. “How do you do?” said Jack.

“How do you do?” said the little man with the bow.

“I’m a bit worn,” said Jack, bowing in turn, “and a bit of cold. My name is Jack; might I share your fire?”

“Indeed you might,” said the little man, sitting down again. “My name is Periwinkle, and right welcome you are.”

So Jack sat down and opened his bundle, and he offered some of his cheese and bread to the odd little man. And between the two of them they ate up all that cheese and all that bread, right to the last crumb. As they sat by the fire warming themselves, Jack said toe Periwinkle, “What were you singing when I came into the woods?”

And Periwinkle answered, “I was singing a sad song because I was alone and it being my birthday and all. But it’s all turned out all right, for I’ve my new friend Jack and have had a good meal to boot, so I’m sad no more.”

And Jack took out the knife his father had given him, his only possession. “I must be off to seek my fortune,” said he, “but it wouldn’t do to have a birthday without a present.” And he gave Periwinkle the knife and went on his way.

Jack walked on for days and for weeks, getting more and more ragged as far from finding his fortune as ever.

Then one day Jack found himself in a kingdom plagued by a giant — a monster the size of a tree who wandered about knocking down buildings and burning fields and eating the king’s subjects. The king, in desperation, had offered half his kingdom and his daughter in marriage to anyone who would kill the giant. When Jack heard this, he thought, “Here is a fortune worth having,” and he set off to find the giant.

He didn’t take much finding. All Jack had to do was to follow the path of the destruction through the kingdom. Every time he found a freshly burned field or scatter rubble that had lately been a farmhouse, he knew he was getting closer. At length Jack heard a screaming and a crashing from up ahead. He hurried forward, but by the time he arrived at the ruined building all was quiet once more. And before he took another step, the giant was upon him.

“Well, look here,” roared the giant, blood dripping from his lips. “You’re a lucky one, my lad,” said the giant as he scooped Jack up in one huge hand. “I’ve just eaten, so I’ll have to save you for a snack for later.” And the giant took a thread from his sleeve, which was like a great rope for Jack, and wound it round and round the frightened buy, tying him up tight. Then the giant put Jack aside and lay down. In a minute the giant was snoring away.

Now Jack was in a fix, and he knew it. How he had ever hoped to defeat a giant he could not remember, but if he’d ever had hope it was gone now. And as he sat there listening to the giant snore, counting his last minutes of life, Jack realized that it was his birthday, and he began to sob.

Just then he heard Periwinkle’s voice. “Happy birthday to you, Jack. You’re not quite as alone as you might wish to be, now are you?” asked the odd little man. And without another word Periwinkle toke out the pocketknife that Jack had given him and cut the ropes that bound him.

Then Periwinkle said, “Now I’ll give you a birthday present, Jack, and it’s a secret I’ll share with you. The greatest knight who ever lived with the mightiest horse and the sharpest sword couldn’t kill that giant face-to-face and man-to-man. But here’s his secret: his life is hidden in the little bauble he carries on a string around his neck.” And without another word Periwinkle vanished.

It was all Jack could do to creep up to the giant, still snoring away, and then to climb up on his broad chest, and then to feel about for the string, and then reel in the string until he had the bauble in his hands. It was a little glass globe, and the size of an apple, and it glowed with a strange glow. And without giving it a second though, Jack took that bauble in both hands and smashed it on the ground, splintering it into a thousand pieces. The giant gave a shudder, cried out, and died.

Jack found an old axe in the rubble and he cut the off giant’s head. Then he found an old ox cart, and the old ox which had escaped the giant, and he loaded the giant’s head onto the cart and took it to the king and collected his reward — half of the kingdom and the beautiful princess for a wife.

And whenever Jack was in trouble from that time forward, and whenever he was especially lucky, Periwinkle would appear to help him in his difficulty or share in his joy. And Jack and his wife lived happily ever after.

For my friends and loved ones Christmas, 1989

Copyright © 1989 by Kenneth D. Pimple