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Jack And The Bean-stalk

from The Best Popular Stories Selected And Rendered Anew





In the days of King Alfred, there lived a poor woman, whose cottage
was in a remote country village, many miles from London. She had been
a widow some years, and had an only child named Jack, whom she
indulged so much that he never paid the least attention to anything
she said, but was indolent, careless, and extravagant. His follies
were not owing to a bad disposition, but to his mother's foolish
partiality. By degrees, he spent all that she had--scarcely anything
remained but a cow. One day, for the first time in her life, she
reproached him: Cruel, cruel boy! you have at last brought me to
beggary. I have not money enough to purchase even a bit of bread;
nothing now remains to sell but my poor cow! I am sorry to part with
her; it grieves me sadly, but we cannot starve. For a few minutes
Jack felt remorse, but it was soon over; and he began asking his
mother to let him sell the cow at the next village; teasing her so
much, that she at last consented. As he was going along he met a
butcher, who inquired why he was driving the cow from home? Jack
replied, he was going to sell it. The butcher held some curious beans
in his hat; they were of various colors, and attracted Jack's
attention; this did not pass unnoticed by the man, who, knowing
Jack's easy temper, thought now was the time to take an advantage of
it; and, determined not to let slip so good an opportunity, asked what
was the price of the cow, offering at the same time all the beans in
his hat for her. The silly boy could not conceal the pleasure he felt
at what he supposed so great an offer: the bargain was struck
instantly, and the cow exchanged for a few paltry beans. Jack made the
best of his way home, calling aloud to his mother before he reached
the door, thinking to surprise her.

When she saw the beans, and heard Jack's account, her patience quite
forsook her: she tossed the beans out of the window, where they fell
on the garden-bed below. Then she threw her apron over her head, and
cried bitterly. Jack attempted to console her, but in vain, and, not
having anything to eat, they both went supperless to bed. Jack awoke
early in the morning, and seeing something uncommon darkening the
window of his bedchamber, ran downstairs into the garden, where he
found some of the beans had taken root, and sprung up surprisingly:
the stalks were of an immense thickness, and had twined together until
they formed a ladder like a chain, and so high that the top appeared
to be lost in the clouds. Jack was an adventurous lad; he determined
to climb up to the top, and ran to tell his mother, not doubting but
that she would be equally pleased with himself. She declared he should
not go; said it would break her heart if he did--entreated and
threatened, but all in vain. Jack set out, and after climbing for
some hours, reached the top of the bean-stalk, quite exhausted.
Looking around, he found himself in a strange country; it appeared to
be a barren desert--not a tree, shrub, house, or living creature was
to be seen; here and there were scattered fragments of stone; and at
unequal distances, small heaps of earth were loosely thrown together.

Jack seated himself pensively upon a block of stone, and thought of
his mother; he reflected with sorrow upon his disobedience in climbing
the bean-stalk against her will, and concluded that he must die of
hunger. However, he walked on, hoping to see a house, where he might
beg something to eat and drink. He did not find it; but he saw at a
distance a beautiful lady, walking all alone. She was elegantly clad,
and carried a white wand, at the top of which sat a peacock of pure
gold.

Jack, who was a gallant fellow, went straight up to her; when, with a
bewitching smile, she asked him how he came there. He told her all
about the bean-stalk. The lady answered him by a question, Do you
remember your father, young man?

No, madam; but I am sure there is some mystery about him, for when I
name him to my mother she always begins to weep, and will tell me
nothing.

She dare not, replied the lady, but I can and will. For know, young
man, that I am a fairy, and was your father's guardian. But fairies
are bound by laws as well as mortals; and by an error of mine I lost
my power for a term of years, so that I was unable to succour your
father when he most needed it, and he died. Here the fairy looked so
sorrowful that Jack's heart warmed to her, and he begged her earnestly
to tell him more.

I will; only you must promise to obey me in everything, or you will
perish yourself.

Jack was brave, and, besides, his fortunes were so bad they could not
well be worse--so he promised.

The fairy continued: Your father, Jack, was a most excellent,
amiable, generous man. He had a good wife, faithful servants, plenty
of money; but he had one misfortune--a false friend. This was a giant,
whom he had succoured in misfortune, and who returned his kindness by
murdering him, and seizing on all his property; also making your
mother take a solemn oath that she would never tell you anything about
your father, or he would murder both her and you. Then he turned her
off with you in her arms, to wander about the wide world as she might.
I could not help her, as my power only returned on the day you went to
sell your cow.

It was I, added the fairy, who impelled you to take the beans, who
made the bean-stalk grow, and inspired you with the desire to climb up
it to this strange country; for it is here the wicked giant lives who
was your father's destroyer. It is you who must avenge him, and rid
the world of a monster who never will do anything but evil. I will
assist you. You may lawfully take possession of his house and all his
riches, for everything he has belonged to your father, and is
therefore yours. Now farewell! Do not let your mother know you are
acquainted with your father's history; this is my command, and if you
disobey me you will suffer for it. Now go.

Jack asked where he was to go.

Along the direct road, till you see the house where the giant lives.
You must then act according to your own just judgment, and I will
guide you if any difficulty arises. Farewell!

She bestowed on the youth a benignant smile, and vanished.

Jack pursued his journey. He walked on till after sunset, when to his
great joy, he espied a large mansion. A plain-looking woman was at the
door: he accosted her, begging she would give him a morsel of bread
and a night's lodging. She expressed the greatest surprise, and said
it was quite uncommon to see a human being near their house; for it
was well known that her husband was a powerful giant, who would never
eat anything but human flesh, if he could possibly get it; that he
would walk fifty miles to procure it, usually being out the whole day
for that purpose.

This account greatly terrified Jack, but still he hoped to elude the
giant, and therefore he again entreated the woman to take him in for
one night only, and hide him where she thought proper. She at last
suffered herself to be persuaded, for she was of a compassionate and
generous disposition, and took him into the house. First, they entered
a fine large hall, magnificently furnished; they then passed through
several spacious rooms, in the same style of grandeur; but all
appeared forsaken and desolate. A long gallery came next; it was very
dark--just light enough to show that, instead of a wall on one side,
there was a grating of iron which parted off a dismal dungeon, from
whence issued the groans of those victims whom the cruel giant
reserved in confinement for his own voracious appetite. Poor Jack was
half dead with fear, and would have given the world to have been with
his mother again, for he now began to doubt if he should ever see her
more; he even mistrusted the good woman, and thought she had let him
into the house for no other purpose than to lock him up among the
unfortunate people in the dungeon. However, she bade Jack sit down,
and gave him plenty to eat and drink; and he, not seeing anything to
make him uncomfortable, soon forgot his fear and was just beginning to
enjoy himself, when he was startled by a loud knocking at the outer
door, which made the whole house shake.

Ah! that's the giant; and if he sees you he will kill you and me
too, cried the poor woman, trembling all over. What shall I do?

Hide me in the oven, cried Jack, now as bold as a lion at the
thought of being face to face with his father's cruel murderer. So he
crept into the oven--for there was no fire near it--and listened to
the giant's loud voice and heavy step as he went up and down the
kitchen scolding his wife. At last he seated himself at table, and
Jack, peeping through a crevice in the oven, was amazed to see what a
quantity of food he devoured. It seemed as if he never would have done
eating and drinking; but he did at last, and, leaning back, called to
his wife in a voice like thunder:

Bring me my hen!

She obeyed, and placed upon the table a very beautiful live hen.

Lay! roared the giant, and the hen laid immediately an egg of solid
gold.

Lay another! and every time the giant said this the hen laid a
larger egg than before.

He amused himself a long time with his hen, and then sent his wife to
bed, while he fell asleep by the fireside, and snored like the roaring
of cannon.

As soon as he was asleep, Jack crept out of the oven, seized the hen,
and ran off with her. He got safely out of the house, and finding his
way along the road he came, reached the top of the bean-stalk, which
he descended in safety.

His mother was overjoyed to see him. She thought he had come to some
ill end.

Not a bit of it, mother. Look here! and he showed her the hen. Now
lay; and the hen obeyed him as readily as the giant, and laid as many
golden eggs as he desired.

These eggs being sold, Jack and his mother got plenty of money, and
for some months lived very happily together; till Jack got another
great longing to climb the bean-stalk, and carry away some more of the
giant's riches. He had told his mother of his adventure, but had been
very careful not to say a word about his father. He thought of his
journey again and again, but still he could not summon resolution
enough to break it to his mother, being well assured that she would
endeavour to prevent his going. However, one day he told her boldly,
that he must take another journey up the bean-stalk; she begged and
prayed him not to think of it, and tried all in her power to dissuade
him. She told him that the giant's wife would certainly know him
again, and that the giant would desire nothing better than to get him
into his power, that he might put him to a cruel death, in order to be
revenged for the loss of his hen. Jack, finding that all his arguments
were useless, ceased speaking, though resolved to go at all events. He
had a dress prepared which would disguise him, and something to colour
his skin; he thought it impossible for any one to recollect him in
this dress.

A few mornings after, he rose very early, and, unperceived by any one,
climbed the bean-stalk a second time. He was greatly fatigued when he
reached the top, and very hungry. Having rested some time on one of
the stones, he pursued his journey to the giant's mansion, which he
reached late in the evening: the woman was at the door as before. Jack
addressed her, at the same time telling her a pitiful tale, and
requesting that she would give him some victuals and drink, and also a
night's lodging.

She told him (what he knew before very well) about her husband's being
a powerful and cruel giant, and also that she had one night admitted a
poor, hungry, friendless boy; that the little ungrateful fellow had
stolen one of the giant's treasures; and ever since that her husband
had been worse than before, using her very cruelly, and continually
upbraiding her with being the cause of his misfortune. Jack felt sorry
for her, but confessed nothing, and did his best to persuade her to
admit him, but found it a very hard task. At last she consented, and
as she led the way, Jack observed that everything was just as he had
found it before: she took him into the kitchen, and after he had done
eating and drinking, she hid him in an old lumber-closet. The giant
returned at the usual time, and walked in so heavily, that the house
was shaken to its foundation. He seated himself by the fire, and soon
after exclaimed: Wife, I smell fresh meat!

The wife replied it was the crows, which had brought a piece of raw
meat, and left it at the top of the house. While supper was preparing,
the giant was very ill-tempered and impatient, frequently lifting up
his hand to strike his wife for not being quick enough. He was also
continually upbraiding her with the loss of his wonderful hen.

At last, having ended his supper, he cried, Give me something to
amuse me--my harp or my money-bags.

Which will you have, my dear? said the wife, humbly.

My money-bags, because they are the heaviest to carry, thundered he.

She brought them, staggering under the weight: two bags--one filled
with new guineas, and the other with new shillings; she emptied them
out on the table, and the giant began counting them in great glee.
Now you may go to bed, you old fool. So the wife crept away.

Jack from his hiding-place watched the counting of the money, which he
knew was his poor father's, and wished it was his own; it would give
him much less trouble than going about selling the golden eggs. The
giant, little thinking he was so narrowly observed, reckoned it all
up, and then replaced it in the two bags, which he tied up very
carefully and put beside his chair, with his little dog to guard them.
At last he fell asleep as before, and snored so loud, that Jack
compared his noise to the roaring of the sea in a high wind, when the
tide is coming in. At last Jack, concluding all secure, stole out, in
order to carry off the two bags of money; but just as he laid his hand
upon one of them, the little dog, which he had not perceived before,
started from under the giant's chair and barked most furiously.
Instead of endeavouring to escape, Jack stood still, though expecting
his enemy to awake every instant. Contrary, however, to his
expectation, the giant continued in a sound sleep, and Jack, seeing a
piece of meat, threw it to the dog, who at once ceased barking, and
began to devour it. So Jack carried off the bags, one on each
shoulder, but they were so heavy that it took him two whole days to
descend the bean-stalk and get back to his mother's door.


When he came he found the cottage deserted. He ran from one room to
another, without being able to find any one; he then hastened into the
village, hoping to see some of the neighbours, who could inform him
where he could find his mother. An old woman at last directed him to a
neighbouring house, where she was ill of a fever. He was greatly
shocked at finding her apparently dying, and blamed himself bitterly
as the cause of it all. However, at sight of her dear son, the poor
woman revived, and slowly recovered health. Jack gave her his two
money-bags; they had the cottage rebuilt and well furnished, and lived
happier than they had ever done before.

For three years Jack heard no more of the bean-stalk, but he could not
forget it, though he feared making his mother unhappy. It was in vain
endeavouring to amuse himself; he became thoughtful, and would arise
at the first dawn of day, and sit looking at the bean-stalk for hours
together. His mother saw that something preyed upon his mind, and
endeavoured to discover the cause; but Jack knew too well what the
consequence would be should she succeed. He did his utmost, therefore,
to conquer the great desire he had for another journey up the
bean-stalk. Finding, however, that his inclination grew too powerful
for him, he began to make secret preparations for his journey. He got
ready a new disguise, better and more complete than the former; and
when summer came, on the longest day he awoke as soon as it was light,
and without telling his mother, ascended the bean-stalk. He found the
road, journey, &c., much as it was on the two former times. He arrived
at the giant's mansion in the evening, and found the wife standing, as
usual, at the door. Jack had disguised himself so completely, that she
did not appear to have the least recollection of him; however, when he
pleaded hunger and poverty, in order to gain admittance, he found it
very difficult indeed to persuade her. At last he prevailed, and was
concealed in the copper. When the giant returned, he said furiously,
I smell fresh meat! But Jack felt quite composed, as he had said so
before, and had been soon satisfied. However, the giant started up
suddenly, and, notwithstanding all his wife could say, he searched all
round the room. Whilst this was going forward, Jack was exceedingly
terrified, wishing himself at home a thousand times; but when the
giant approached the copper, and put his hand upon the lid, Jack
thought his death was certain. However, nothing happened; for the
giant did not take the trouble to lift up the lid, but sat down
shortly by the fireside, and began to eat his enormous supper. When he
had finished, he commanded his wife to fetch down his harp. Jack
peeped under the copper-lid, and saw a most beautiful harp. The giant
placed it on the table, said Play! and it played of its own accord,
without anybody touching it, the most exquisite music imaginable.
Jack, who was a very good musician, was delighted, and more anxious to
get this than any other of his enemy's treasures. But the giant not
being particularly fond of music, the harp had only the effect of
lulling him to sleep earlier than usual. As for the wife, she had gone
to bed as soon as ever she could.

As soon as he thought all was safe, Jack got out of the copper, and
seizing the harp, was eagerly running off with it. But the harp was
enchanted by a fairy, and as soon as it found itself in strange hands,
it called out loudly, just as if it had been alive, Master! Master!

The giant awoke, started up, and saw Jack scampering away as fast as
his legs could carry him.

Oh you villain! it is you who have robbed me of my hen and my
money-bags, and now you are stealing my harp also. Wait till I catch
you, and I'll eat you up alive!

Very well; try! shouted Jack, who was not a bit afraid, for he saw
the giant was so tipsy he could hardly stand, much less run; and he
himself had young legs and a clear conscience, which carry a man a
long way. So, after leading the giant a considerable race, he
contrived to be first at the top of the bean-stalk, and then scrambled
down it as fast as he could, the harp playing all the while the most
melancholy music till he said, Stop, and it stopped.

Arrived at the bottom, he found his mother sitting at her
cottage-door, weeping silently.

Here, mother, don't cry; just give me a hatchet; make haste. For he
knew there was not a moment to spare; he saw the giant beginning to
descend the bean-stalk.

However, it was too late--the monster's ill deeds had come to an end.
Jack with his hatchet cut the bean-stalk close off at the root; the
giant fell headlong into the garden, and was killed on the spot.

Instantly the fairy appeared, and explained everything to Jack's
mother, begging her to forgive Jack, who was his father's own son for
bravery and generosity, and who would be sure to make her happy for
the rest of her days.

So all ended well, and nothing was ever beard or seen of the wonderful
Bean-stalk.





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