–Contributed by Marilyn McPhie
Many years ago, in a humble croft in Scotland, there lived an old woman with her son, Jack. Everyone in town knew about Jack. He was, everyone knew, a foolish boy
Jack may not have been very smart, but he was strong, and cheerful, and willing to work, and he kept everything running about the wee house and garden. Still, they were very, very poor.
One morning, Jack’s mother said, “I need to go into town, but I won’t be too long. I know that the factor is coming today to collect the rent. In case he comes before I’m back, invite him in. See that you have a good peat fire going, so that he can be warm while he waits for me.”
“Of course, Mother,” said Jack. “I’ll make a peat fire and be sure that it is nice and warm when the factor comes.”
And Jack’s mother left for town. She had been gone for a couple of hours, when the factor arrived to collect his six-month rent. He asked for the mother, but Jack told him that she’d be back shortly, and he invited the factor to come in and get warm by the peat fire while he waited.
The factor gladly accepted the invitation, happy for a chance to sit and keep warm. The factor had been walking around in the cold all morning. Now he sat down in a big chair in front of the fire and made himself comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that he was soon asleep.
Jack sat across from the factor, enjoying the warmth, but he did not sleep. After a while, he noticed that a fly was buzzing around the room, and it landed right on the factor’s bald head. It walked around the factor’s hairline and even as far as his eyebrows, but it didn’t seem inclined to fly away.
Jack watched it all, and finally, he could not help himself. “Fly away now,” he called out. But the fly did not fly away, and the factor did not wake up. Jack filled his cheeks with air and blew. But the fly did not fly away and the factor did not wake up. Jack took off his shoe and waved it. But the fly did not fly away, and still the factor did not wake up.
Clearly, thought Jack, he would need to do something. Sitting beside the door was a hatchet that Jack used to break up kindling. Jack picked it up and waved it at the fly – with no results. And now Jack was frustrated and determined to get rid of that fly. So determined – that finally Jack brought the hatchet down on the factor’s head. The blow was intended to kill the fly – but instead his blow killed the factor
A few minutes later, Jack’s mother returned home. Imagine her horror when she saw the factor lying dead on the floor with his head bashed in.
Jack’s mother was not so very sorry about the factor. He had always been a mean man with no sympathy or kindness at all for anyone. But she was very fearful about Jack. She knew that if anyone learned that Jack had killed the factor, her son would be taken away. She loved him dearly in spite of his foolish ways, and besides she did not know how she could get along without him. So she hit upon a plan – a plan that involved their old billy goat.
Jack and his mother had never liked the mean factor, and when they got a goat that seemed as mean and difficult as the factor, didn’t they name the goat Factor? It was a joke between them.
Jack’s mother knew they’d have to get rid of the factor’s body. So Jack carried it out to the field, and they buried it. But Jack’s mother knew that if the authorities came looking for the factor, Jack would certainly tell them everything, and she couldn’t have that. So that night after Jack was asleep, his mother went out and killed the billy goat – the one named Factor. Then she dug up the factor’s body, and buried it in a new grave a ways away. And she buried the goat in the factor’s original grave.
Then she made a big pot of porridge, and set it outside by the chimney, where there was a tall ladder. When Jack woke up, she told him that she had heard something really surprising. She had heard that there was going to be a rain of porridge, and she advised him to keep a close watch on the chimney. She left Jack looking up the chimney, and she climbed the ladder by the house and poured the porridge down the chimney.
When she went back inside, there was Jack catching the porridge as it streamed down the chimney and eating as much as he could. He said, “You were right, Mother. It’s a rain of porridge.”
Several days passed, and sure enough, the authorities came to the door asking questions about the factor. No one had seen him for days apparently. When they asked Jack if he had seen the factor, he said that the factor had come to their house a few days ago.
“And when did he leave?” they asked.
“Oh, he didn’t leave at all,” said Jack. “I killed him.”
“You killed him? Where is he now?”
“We buried him in a grave outside,” said Jack. His mother had known that he would tell them everything.
“Are you sure?” asked the authorities.
“Of course,” said Jack. “I remember that day very well. It was the same day that it rained porridge, and I had a full bowl of it that came down the chimney.”
“It rained porridge?” The authorities looked at each other. “Well, anyway, if you buried the factor, can you show us the place?”
“Of course,” said Jack. “Follow me.”
As Jack and his mother and the authorities were walking out to the yard, Jack’s mother said, “Jack’s a good boy, he is, and a blessing to me, but he’s not very bright, you know.”
“Right here is where we buried the factor,” said Jack, and the authorities began to dig. Of course, the uncovered only the body of the goat. As they uncovered the goat with its large horns, Jack exclaimed, “Oh, look, since we buried him, hasn’t the wicked man grown horns?!”
The authorities looked at each other, then at Jack, then at his mother. “You poor mother. You were right about the boy. He tells strange tales. A rain of porridge? Killing the factor? But he does seem harmless. Take good care of him.”
That was the end of the investigation. Most people assumed that the factor had simply absconded with all the rent money that he’d collected. He was thought to be the sort of man who would do such a thing. In fact, the rent money had been left in the factor’s bag on the table, so Jack and his mother, were able to use it for themselves, and they had a bit of an easier life after that.