Many, many years ago, there lived in a far off country village, Jack and his mother. Now Jack was a very idle boy, and was so indulged by his mother, and so, little by little, the small savings left by his papa, were spent, until now, all they had left were the cottage in which they lived, and a cow. One day his mother sat down and cried bitterly over the situation, and for the first time in her life reproached Jack for being such an idle, careless boy.
"Why, Jack," she exclaimed, "I hav'nt even money with which to buy bread, and nothing remains to be done, but to sell our cow."
When Jack saw his mother's distress, he felt very badly, and begged his mother to allow him to take the cow to the butcher, and get money enough for their present needs, and then he would go to work, and prove how much he could do for her.
Early the following morning Jack started with the cow to the butcher's, and as he was driving the cow along, he passed a man sitting under the shade of a large oak tree. The man called to Jack, asking him where he was going with the cow. "To sell her to the butcher," replied Jack.
"Why drive her to the butcher's?" said the man, who was well acquainted with Jack's easy, lazy ways. "I am very much in need of a cow, and why not trade with me?" and putting his hand in his pocket he drew forth a handful of beautiful speckled beans. "Now Jack what do you say to giving me the cow, and you take the beans?"
The foolish boy could not hide his pleasure, and forgetting all about the good resolutions he had made, traded off the cow for the few trifling beans, and hurried home, whistling gaily as he went; on reaching home, Jack ran to his mother, and told her of the wonderful trade he had mace. Bitter were the tears she shed, and quite out of patience with him, she threw the beautiful beans out of the window, and they were obliged to go to bed without any supper.
What was their surprise on awaking early the next morning to find something uncommon darkening the window of their bed-room; on looking out they saw the most beautiful vine covering the window, and Jack ran quickly into the garden, to see what it could be; he found that the beans had taken root, and grown up into tall vines, which had twined together until they formed a ladder, which seemed to reach way up into the sky.
Now Jack was a very inquisitive, and venturesome boy, and without stopping to ask his mother's advice, or thinking where he was going, he sprang nimbly up the ladder of vines. After climbing what seemed to him for hours, he reached the top of the ladder and found himself in a new country; he sat down upon a stone and looked around him; no vegetation of any kind was to be seen, only a barren waste of country covered with stones, was to be seen in every direction. Jack felt very lonesome indeed, and began to wonder what would become of his poor mother, but being very hungry he determined to see if he could not find some place of habitation. After walking a long ways he came to a beautiful castle, and standing in the door of the castle was an old woman, who looked very sorry when she saw Jack, but he was too tired, and hungry to notice this, and going up to her begged her to give him a night's lodging, and something to eat. At this the woman shook her head, and told him her husband was a fierce giant, whom she was expecting every minute, and who would eat nothing but human flesh if he could get it. This account greatly frightened Jack, but he was too tired, and hungry to go another step, so entreated the woman to take him in, and he would trust to providence to protect him.
The woman allowed herself to be persuaded, and took him in, saying, "I fear providence cannot protect you from the giant, for he can smell fresh meat for miles, and nothing would suit him better for his supper, than a nice plump boy like Jack." She led him through a broad hall, handsomely furnished, then through several spacious rooms, furnished in great splendour, whose ceiling sparkled with rare gems, and whose walls were hung with the finest tapestry; Jack had never seen any thing half so beautiful, and had forgotten his fear, when they came to a long gallery, which was quite dark, and one side was a grating of iron from which issued the moans of the people whom the giant kept in confinement. Now indeed was Jack half dead with fright, and wished heartily to be back with his dear mother. However, after sitting down to a table abundantly spread with good things, he began to feel more comfortable, and was eating quite heartily, when he heard such loud knocking at the door that the very house shook.
"Oh, what shall I do?" exclaimed the woman. "That is the giant, and if he finds you here he will kill both of us, for he forbid me ever letting any one come in the castle."
"Hide me in the over," cried Jack, now feeling as bold as a lion, at the thought of seeing a real, live, giant.
The woman hastily opened the oven door, and in jumped Jack as lively as a cricket; she then closed the door, and hastened to meet the giant, who by this time was roaring loudly with impatience.
As he came into the dining-room where his wife had the table spread with all the good things imaginable for his supper, he began to sniff the air and grumble:
"Fe, fi, fo, fum!
I smell fresh meat;
I will have some."
The good woman prayed he would sit down to his supper, and assured him, it was only the calf's head stew, which she had prepared for him, and finally, after he had looked in every corner and cupboard, he was satisfied she was telling him the truth, and sat down to the table.
As Jack peeped out of the oven door, his curiosity being greater than his fear; he afterwards declared to his mother, that the giant ate as much as ten ordinary men, and drank a barrel of wine, and all the time kept roaring, and scolding at his good wife. After finishing his supper, he called loudly for his good hen. The wife left the room, but returned in a few minutes with a small, speckeled hen, which she placed on the table before the giant/
"Lay me an egg of gold," he roared, and immediately the hen laid an egg of solid gold.
"Lay another," he shrieked, and every time he said lay, she would lay one larger than before; after he had amused himself for a long time in this way, he sent his wife to bed, and stretching his long legs out before the fire, was soon sound asleep, and snoring like a lion.
All this time Jack was planning how he should act, and as soon as he saw the giant sleeping soundly, he crept softly along the floor to the table, grabbed the hen, and in an instant was out of the door, and running rapidly along the road by which he came, reaching the bean stalk, rapidly descending it, was home, almost quicker than you could think.
Great was his mother's joy on seeing him, as she supposed he had met with some dreadful death. Jack then told her of his wonderful adventure, and showing her the little hen exclaimed, "Now just look, mother," and turning to the hen, said, as the old giant had, "Lay me a golden egg," and immediately the little hen obeyed him; the eggs were sold, and now they had plenty of money, and for several months lived quite happily together; but Jack began to have a great longing to climb the ladder again, in order to bring away some more of the giant's wonderful treasure, and told his desire to his mother, who at first wept bitterly and declared the giant would surely grind Jack to death, for having carried off his little hen, but when she found Jack was so determined to go, she fixed him up in new clothes, and colored his skin brown so that the good woman could not recognize him, and early one morning, bade him good-bye, and away Jack began to climb the bean-stalk again. After a fatiguing journey he reached the top; resting for a few minutes on one of the stones, he started for the giant's castle, which he reached late in the evening, and as he had expected there stood the poor woman in the door, watching for the return of the giant. Jack bade her good evening, and said, "I have been travelling all day, and am quite exhausted from fatigue and hunger. Kind lady will you please take me in for the night?" She looked very sorry for him but refused to give him a night's lodging; and then told him of an ungrateful little boy, whom she took in, fed and sheltered one night, and he then stole the giant's little hen, and ran away with it, and that the giant was very cruel, and loved little boys for his supper better than anything else, all of which Hack knew to be very true; still he pleaded with the woman to keep him, and appeared very much horrified that any boy would be so bad and ungrateful. At last she consented and gave him a good supper, then hid him in the lumber closet.
The giant returned at the usual time, ate another hearty supper and constantly scolded his good wife for the loss of his golden hen, and now and then sniffing the air would exclaim:
"Fe, fi, fo, fum!
I smell fresh meat;
I will have some."
She finally quieted him by declaring, that the crows had dropped a piece of fresh meat on the top of the house that day.
Having finished his supper he cried, "Bring me something to amuse me."
"What shall I bring you?" asked his wife.
"My money-bags, and bring them quick," said he. So she went to the large iron safe, and brought him two immense bags filled with new guineas, and emptied them before him, and, not even thanking her for her trouble, he roared at her to go to bed, which she was only too glad to be allowed to do, as he was so very ugly and cross with her.
Now Jack, from his hiding-place, watched the counting of the money, and wished it was his own; the giant, little thinking he was being watched by Jack's two bright eyes, amused himself by counting it several times, the he put it back into the bags, which he tied up very carefully, placed them on the floor beside his chair, and then fell fast asleep, and as before, snored so loud that Jack thought there must surely be a big storm on the sea.
After the giant had been sleeping soundly what seemed ages to Jack, he crept softly from his hiding-place, and grabbing the two bags, threw one over each shoulder, and started for the bean-stalk, and in due time reached his mother's door.
What was his surprise, on entering the house to find it deserted! He ran from one room to another, without finding his mother. He then ran to the village, hoping the neighbors could give him some tidings of her, and meeting an old woman, she told him his mother was lying very ill at the house of a neighbor.
Jack was much grieved to find his mother so ill, and blamed himself as the cause of it; but at the sight of her dear son, the poor woman was revived, and slowly regained her health.
In place of the cottage, Jack built a fine castle, and furnished it in great splendour, and here he and his mother lived happier than ever before, and Jack spent much of his time in hunting up the needy people, and dividing his money with them.
After three years his desire to ascend the bean-stalk overpowered him; secretly he prepared a new disguise, and on the longest summer day, he awoke with the first rays of the sun, stole quietly from the house and lightly sprang up the bean-stalk. He found things little changed since his last journey; arriving at the giant's house in the evening, and standing in the door of the giant's house as usual, stood the good and faithful wife. She did not seem to recognize Jack, but when he asked for his supper, and a place to sleep for the night, she very positively refused, and he was obliged to feign sickness, before he could prevail on her to allow him to stay; she told him he would be obliged to hide in the copper, as her husband was a savage giant, and would surely eat him up if he found him in the castle. This Jack knew very well, but told her he would stay wherever she chose to put him.
They heard the giant roaring long before he reached the castle, and the minute he entered the door he began to fairly scream:
"Fe, fi, fo, fum!
I smell fresh meat;
I will have some."
And although his wife insisted that he was mistaken he began a thorough search of the room. Oh! how Jack wished himself at home with his dear mother, and great was his terror, when the giant with two long strides across the room reached the copper, and taking hold of the lid began to raise it, but suddenly changed his mind, and did not raise the lid, but went back to the table, and sat down to his supper. When he had finished eating he called for his wonderful harp, which when brought played beautiful music at his command without being touched by any one.
Jack, who was a great lover of music, was more anxious to possess his harp than anything he had ever seen in his life. The sweet music soon had the effect of lulling the old giant into a sound sleep.
Jack finally got the courage to slip out of the copper, grab the wonderful harp, and eagerly started for the bean-stalk, but he was not to escape so easily, as in his two former visits; for the harp was enchanted, and as soon as it found itself in strange hands, it called out loudly, "Master! Master!" This awoke the giant, who started up, and saw Jack running as fast as his legs could carry him. "Oh, little villain, I have caught you at last, and I'll eat you up alive! So it is you who have robbed me of my hen and money-bags, and now you think you will robe me of my harp also, but I'll have you this time!"
Jack shouted, "Catch me if you can," for he saw the giant was very tipsy from having drank so much wine for his supper, and could hardly stand, much less fun fast, and Jack's legs being young and strong, he soon reached the bean-stalk, and scrambled down it, the harp playing all the while. His mother, hearing the wonderful music, ran out of the door to see what was coming, just as Jack reached the bottom of the bean-stalk.
"Oh, Mother!" he exclaimed, "make haste and give me a hatchet" for he saw the giant's legs beginning to descend the bean-stalk. So he cut the stalk off at the ground, and the monster giant fell and was killed outright.
Now the most wonderful thing of all happened. The harp turned into a beautiful fairy, and explained to Jack and his mother that she had been enchanted by the wicked giant, and could not be released until the death of the giant, and if it had not been for the brave and generous Jack she would still be the miserable woman in the giant's castle. So all ended well, and in all time to come Jack and his wonderful bean-stalk will be held in the memory of the people.
Jack and the Bean-Stalk
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen