Ever so long ago it happened, and if it had not happened, I should not tell you of it. In the days when the flea was shod with ninety-nine pounds of iron, and he notwithstanding remained unshod, Jumping Jack was born.
On the day when Jumping Jack was to be born, a very extraordinary crackling was heard in the wood, on which the workman outlined his figure. All his tools flew of themselves into his hands, and his work went so well, so smoothly, and so quickly, that the workman soon saw that a very wonderful Jumping Jack was to come to life under his hands.
Jumping Jack however made a wry face and was not at all satisfied.
"I am quite flat", he complained.
"You stupid! Have you not two sides, two faces and two pair of eyes to behold the world with?"
"But I have no heart, not even a place for one."
"Still stupider! Instead of a useless heart, which would only give you pain, you will have strings which will govern your members. That is far simpler and safer."
"I would not object to the strings if only others did not try at it."
"Do you not know, my son, that the heart also is but a string at which other people pull?"
Jumping Jack opened his eyes very wide, for he thought that human beings would have everything just as they wished.
"And have you not a mask my son?"
"To hide your thoughts with."
And therefore he looked very wise, when he hung on the wall in all his splendour, and observed the world around him. The lovely lambs made of wood and wadding, the magnificent green trees, the Noah’s Ark, in which the squirrel was as big as the dog, and the pig as big as the camel, and the villages and towns, with gaily painted houses, whose windows never were opened, for fear the air should be spoilt inside or the dust get inside. Mills, that could be wound up till the wheels turned and the miller stretched his head out of the window and nodded without stopping. Farmyards, in which there were cows all beautifully painted with brown spots and which had real horns. Jumping Jack wished very much that he could see with both his sides at once, in order to be able to enjoy more at a time, especially a pretty shepherdess of wood, with a round petticoat, a round hat, a round head and round eyes. But he was hung on the wall and could not move.
At last however one day a gentleman came with a little girl. She saw Jumping Jack at once and wished to have him. He was taken down from the wall and the little girl began at once to tug with all her might at his strings and pulled so hard that poor Jack quite lost his head and made the wildest jumps and maddest movements, behind his mask, his face remained as grave as if he were transacting some matter of state.
Delighted with him, the little girl would not let him one moment out of her hands, and so he wandered away, out of the paradise of his youth into the wide, wide world, while a feeling of great astonishment and awe crept over him.
Before long Jack found in the house of the little girl, a large company, in which he did not feel at home. There were beautiful ladies with long hair and silk dresses, horses that galloped about alone, monkeys that made music and dancers with tambourines. He felt lonely as all these fine people looked down on him and despised him.
Do not think however that the little girl liked any of the smart ladies as much as Jumping Jack, for she neglected them all for his sake and only would play with him and tell him long fairy tales, to which he had to make gestures, and when he danced very well, then the child laughed merrily and shook her fair curls, while her eyes sparkled with pleasure. Jack did everything he could to please her and his strings quivered with love and devotion like a real heart.
Every day Jumping Jack saw something new and wonderful, but one night he was struck by something he had never seen before: A round beaming face looked laughingly in at the window.
In his former world, heavy iron shutters, were let down with an awful noise at sunset. He therefore had no notion that a moon even existed. He trembled all over as the face seemed to nod kindly to him. He fancied it was coming towards him as it wandered across the window pane and seemed to wish to come in. Oh how beautiful and round and luminous it was! But suddenly alas! it seemed to laugh at him and turn away. Jumping Jack tugged so hard at the string that was fastened to his neck, to try and follow the apparition that he fell to the ground on his knees in an attitude of humble supplication—but in vain! The beautiful face only laughed still more at him and the disappeared.
Knowing little in his inexperience of what was to befall him soon, he was just recovering from his last shock when another new and dreadful thing occurred. He had been found on the floor and hung up on the chandelier.
When the sun began to stream in at the window, he descried on the wall something which he had never set eyes on before: His own shadow!
At first he thought it was someone who wished to tease him. As however the shadow never moved, Jack began to menace it with his arms; the shadow did the same. Jack sprang into the air to throw himself on his enemy; the shadow again did exactly the same. Under all aspects the shadow resembled him completely, only it was so impalpable, so unreal, that Jumping Jack was seized by an indescribable terror.
It happened to him as to most people, that he feared the unknown, which seemed uncanny and ghostly to him. He felt a weakness in all his strings and all his colours become pale, a gradual unconsciousness overcame him, out of which his little mistress only succeeded in rousing him by many caresses.
She had already kissed him very pale and his beauty had suffered much. But all this was quite indifferent to him, since the bright face had turned away from him.
Event followed event, till one day a new and terrible shock fell on him which was so fearful, that all his strings, which had already become very weak, gave way and could govern his limbs no longer.
The catastrophe happened as follows: the little girl had a new brother and in consequence wanted also to have a baby in order to play mother.
Even this wish was soon realized in the shape of a wooden baby, in a beautiful cradle painted red and blue.
"Jack", exclaimed the child, "do you see Jack, we too have a baby now."
After the great fright he had gone through poor Jumping Jack was so weak that he could not even bear a joy. He touched the baby in the cradle and swore to protect it. When the little girl tried to make him leap for joy, all the strings remained in her hands and poor Jumping Jack lay as indifferent and motionless as a stone, as if he were already dead.
Weeping passionately and bitterly the little girl exclaimed: "Oh my little Jack, I wanted only to please you!"
Alas to be able to rejoice one must have strength and Jumping Jack has lost all his strength.
Soon however the child was consoled, when she heard that the man to whom Jumping Jack owed his life was a great doctor, and would soon be able to make him well again.
As a wise man, who had seen and known the world, Jack returned to the home of his childhood. There however no one recognized him, not even the man who had made him.
He was so much changed. He looked down proudly with both his faces on all the sheep, the shepherdesses and the villages.
Everything seemed to him poor and small, after the beautiful ladies, the real horses, and the little lambs who said "Baa!" when one pressed down their heads. How miserable everything was after the great world, out of which he had come.
In this frame of mind he let himself be mended, washed, stringed and painted, for the little girl was determined she would have no other Jumping Jack and came every day to see if he soon would be well again.
Every day he got a little better till he was completely restored and looked as stately and magnificent as before and he thought with a certain pride of turning back to his old home, when he was struck by the last and heaviest blow.
A terrible humiliation; suddenly he saw hanging on the wall near him a doll that had many more joints than he had himself, a doll that could sit down and could embrace and even eat and walk forwards.
In that moment he felt that something in him was torn asunder, he did not know exactly what, but he was mortally wounded, of that he was sure.
During these events the man was busy and did not remark the misfortune that had happened and sent him back as if he were quite cured.
"Hurrah! My Jumping Jack, now we will be happy" exclaimed the little girl in great joy.
"Jump with me Jack, dance with me, we are together again!"
And she danced about in the room and pulled somewhat roughly at his string, because she thought he did not seem to be glad enough. She fancied that he was grave and sad behind his mask, and at the next pull, the string broke and his right arm hung down quite lame.
Dreadfully vexed, the little girl stopped suddenly and, making an angry little face, flung her friend out of the door, because she thought he did not love her any more. And yet he had given himself so much trouble to hide his grief and to jump as merrily as before in order that his golden haired little darling should not have to suffer for his sake.
Now he lay on the steps abandoned and crushed with torn strings and despairing of everything as even his pet had turned away from him. He did not wish to live any longer for he had found nothing in life except that he was of no use, as there were dolls of far more perfect construction than himself, and worn out with grief, he fell asleep.
Dreamland opened its golden doors to poor Jumping jack and he soon found himself back again in his childhoods paradise, with its lambs and trees, the Noah’s Ark and the mill. Forgotten were the bright moonface, the silken ladies, the real sheep that said "Baa", the horrible shadow and the terrible doll, as well as the pain the little girl had caused him. Everything, everything was forgotten, while he dreamed the happy dream of childhood and the dream seemed to him more real than the reality and much more beautiful than his whole troubled life.
Entranced in his dream, he only felt what a happy Jumping Jack he was and did not know that his little mistress came running downstairs with a new doll in her hand and trod on him carelessly, not intentionally, but simply because she did not see him. This bitterness was spared to him, because he had always been such a good Jumping Jack and had fulfilled his duty so willingly.
Dancing merrily along the little girl on her way back found poor Jack lying smashed on the ground and did not know that she herself had trodden on him, but accused everyone else of it and wept over him, and loved him again as much as the first day, and wanted to make him strong and well again. She laid him in the softest bed of down belonging to the loveliest of her silken ladies and thought that so well cared for, he must regain his health, for no one in the world had given her such joy as Jumping Jack.
Alas! there he lay crushed, and nothing could restore him to life neither tears, nor wishes, nor praise. For not even praise could give him pleasure any more, he was dead and could not hear it. For the first time he was powerless to console his beloved little mistress, as he was wont to do, as he could not respond to her loving words. Ah, how sad it was!
A happy destiny was however awaiting poor Jumping Jack at last.
In the night when all was sleeping, the moon looked in shyly and sadly and sweet voices began to sound as if all the musical boxes in the paradise of his childhood were playing at once softly. The little wooden trees rustled, and the mill clapped, and the common little wooden lambs would say "Baa" and the shepherdesses danced and the most beautiful dolls embraced him, and the oldest Jumping Jack, that ever lived, stretched his hands out of Dolliparadise and drew him aloft.
Utterly lost in heavenly rapture, Jack left his mask and his strings behind on the earth and soared upwards as on wings to the happy place where there is no pain nor fright, no misunderstanding and no shame, and where there is a place for the most humble Jumping Jack, far above the silken ladies, that were only beautiful and had not given themselves near as much trouble to please children, as the little despised Jumping Jack.