Gateway to the Classics: Fairy Stories and Fables by James Baldwin
Fairy Stories and Fables by  James Baldwin

Jack and the Beanstalk

There was once a boy named Jack, and he lived with his mother in a small house at the end of a field. They were so poor that it was hard for them to get food to eat and clothes to wear. All that they had in the world was a red cow, and they kept her for her milk.

One day Jack's mother said: "Jack, the rent must be paid this week or else we shall be put out of doors; and you know that there is not a cent in the house. You must drive the cow to town and sell her for as much as you can get."

So Jack tied a rope to one of the cow's horns, and set out to drive her to the town. He had not gone far when he met a man with a red face and sharp gray eyes.

"My boy, whose cow is that?" said the man.

"She is my mother's cow," said Jack; "and I am driving her to town to sell her."

"Ah!" said the man, "and how much will you take for her?"

"As much as I can get," said Jack.

Then the man showed him five beans, and said: "I will give you these beans for your cow."

Jack had never seen such beans. One was white, one was red, one was blue, one was brown, and one was black. He looked at them a long time and thought how nice it would be to take them home and show them to his mother. As to how they could help her pay the rent, he did not think of that.

"All right!" he said to the man at last. "You may have the cow."

Then with the five beans in his hand he ran back home as fast as he could go.

"Are you back so soon, Jack?" said his mother. "How much did you get for the old cow?"

"Guess," said Jack.

"Five dollars?" said his mother.

"Guess again," said Jack.

"Six dollars?" said his mother.

"More than that," said Jack; "guess again."

"Oh, tell me! I cannot guess," said his mother. "Well then, what do you think?" said Jack. "I met a man on the road, and he gave me these five beans for the old cow;" and he showed them to his mother.

Oh, how vexed she was! She could have cried, if that would have done any good.

"Ah, Jack, Jack, Jack!" she said. "What have you done? Have you gone and sold our cow for five beans?" Then she snatched them from his hand and threw them out of the window. "Now, you good-for-naught," she screamed, "take that—and that—and that—and that! And now, up to bed with you! You shall not have a bite to eat this night; and don't let me hear a word from you."

Jack sobbed as he climbed up to his little room. Then he crept into his bed and sobbed and sobbed till he went to sleep.

When he woke up it was some time before he could think where he was. He knew that it was day, and that he ought to get up; for the sun was shining. But the light seemed to come into his room in streaks and spots, and not in one broad glare of brightness as it used to do.

He jumped out of bed and dressed himself quickly, for he wanted to see what was the matter. He knew that the sun was up high, yet it did not seem to be late. Ah, what were those green leaves that he saw in front of the window? There had never been anything of the kind there before. He ran to the window to look at them. They were the leaves of a beanstalk. The five beans which his mother had thrown out had sprouted and grown into the biggest beanstalk that anybody ever saw. It was so tall that Jack could not see the top of it; it went up and up and up, to the very sky. Who wouldn't give a cow for beans that would make such a stalk as that?

The beanstalk was so close to Jack's window that he stepped out among its branches; and then, since it looked so much like a ladder, he began to climb. He climbed and climbed and climbed, and climbed, till at last he was in the sky. His mother's house looked like a tiny speck away down below him, but he did not want to go home till he had seen what kind of a place he had climbed up to.

There was a broad, smooth road running straight from the top of the beanstalk, and he thought he would walk out a little way and see where it led. He had not gone far when he came to a big tall house, with green blinds at the window. A big tall woman with red hair stood on the steps.

"You'd better go back," she said; but Jack did not hear her.

"Good-morning, ma'am," he said. "I have come a long way, and I am very tired. Will you be so kind as to give me a bite to eat, and let me rest in your house a little while?"

"You'd better go back," said the big tall woman. "This is no place for boys like you. For don't you know that my man is a giant? And are you not afraid that he will eat you up if he finds you? You'd better go back!"

"But I am so tired," said Jack, "that I can't go till I have had a bite to eat."

The big tall woman was not half so bad as you might think, for she had a kind heart. She took Jack into the kitchen, and gave him all the bread and cheese that he could eat. He was just eating the last mouthful when he heard a great noise in the hallway—thump! thump! thump! thump!

"Ah, there comes my man, now!" cried the woman. "Get in here, quick! for he might eat you up if he should find you."

She opened the oven door, and pushed Jack inside, where he would be out of sight. And she was just in time, for the giant came into the room the very next minute—thump! thump! thump! thump!

He was a very large man and very tall. His foot was half as big as Jack's whole body, and he looked so fierce that Jack trembled in the oven.

"Here, wife!" he growled, "broil a leg of this beast for my breakfast; and be quick about it!" and he threw a fat calf upon the table. Then he went thumping round the room, and looking very cross and fierce. At last he stopped right in front of the oven, and cried out: "What's this I smell? What's this I smell?


I smell the blood of an Englishman!"

"Don't be so foolish," said his wife. "It's only the blood of the calf! See, your hands are red with it! Go out and wash them, and make yourself clean and tidy for breakfast, while I set the table for you."

So off the giant went—thump! thump! thump! thump!—to the well at the back of the house. There was a great tub of water there, and he was soon busy washing his hands and combing his long hair. Jack thought that this would be a good time to slip out of the oven and run away. But the big tall woman told him to keep still.

"Wait till after my man has eaten his breakfast," she said. "He will go to sleep in his chair, and then you can run away."

And so the giant had his breakfast. How he did eat! The broiled leg of the calf made him only a few mouthfuls, and a loaf of bread was only a small bite. After he had finished, he said to his wife,—

"Now fetch me the hen."

The big tall woman went out, and soon came back with a beautiful hen in her arms. Jack peeped out of the oven to see what the giant was going to do. Was he going to eat the hen, too? No; he put it on the table before him, and gently stroked its back. Then he said, "Lay!" and the hen laid an egg all of gold. He stroked it again, and said, "Lay!" and it laid another egg all of gold.

The giant played with the hen for some time, till there was a plateful of golden eggs on the table. But, by and by, he began to nod, then his eyes closed, and he began to snore.

"Now you may come out of the oven and run away," said the woman to Jack.

Jack crept out and looked around him. "I wish I had such a hen as that," he said.

"You may take her," said the woman; "but be sure that she doesn't make a noise and wake my man. The hen is no more his than it is yours."

Jack climbed up and took the hen off the table. Then he leaped down and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. But just as he got out of the house, the hen cackled and woke the giant.


"Wife, wife, where is my golden hen?" he cried.

And that was all that Jack heard, for he rushed down the road to the beanstalk, and climbed down the beanstalk to his mother's house, before the giant had time to snap his fingers.

"Just see what I have brought you from the top of the beanstalk," he said to his mother.

Then he showed her the wonderful hen, and told it to lay; and it laid an egg all of gold. Of course his mother was pleased, and she forgot all about the red cow which Jack had sold for five beans.

The little hen laid a golden egg for Jack every time he said "Lay!" to it, and soon he had so many eggs that he didn't know what to do with them. The rent was paid, and Jack and his mother had all the clothes they wanted to wear, and all the food they wanted to eat, and soon they began to think themselves very rich. But it wasn't long till Jack wanted to try his luck with the giant again.

So one fine morning he rose very early and began to climb the beanstalk. He climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, until he thought he should never get to the top. It seemed to be ever so much higher than before; but at last he was in the land of the sky, and saw the broad, smooth road running straight towards the place where the giant lived.

But this time the road seemed much longer than before, and he walked, and he walked, and he walked, until the sun was setting in the west. Then at last he came to the same great big tall house; and the same big tall woman was standing on the steps.

"You'd better go back," she said.

But Jack begged that she would give him a bite to eat, and would let him rest in her house a little while.

"Are you the lad to whom I gave the golden hen?" she said. And then she told him that the giant had been very unkind to her ever since, and that he had said that he would like to catch and eat every boy he could find.

While Jack was eating bread and cheese in the kitchen as before, the giant came home—thump! thump! thump! He was cross, and seemed to be in a great rage; and he cried out:

"Hum, hum, hum,


I smell the blood of an Englishman!"

Jack had just time to creep into a bread box and pull the lid down after him when the big fellow came into the room.

"Where is the boy, wife?" he said.

"What boy?" she asked.

"The boy that took the golden hen," he said. "I smell him, I smell him! He must be here!"

"He hid in the oven the other time," said his wife. "Look for him there."

The giant rushed to the oven and looked in. But he found nothing there except a few big loaves which were baking.

"There!" said his wife. "What's the good of all your fe-fi-fo-fums? It's only the bread that you smell. Come, sit down to the table and eat your supper."

So the giant sat down and ate his supper. But he was cross and ill at ease. When he had finished he said:

"Wife, fetch me my harp!"

The woman brought the most beautiful harp that Jack had ever seen. She set it down on the table before him, and he said to it, "Sing!" Then the cords began to tremble, and sweet, wonderful music came from them as if they were touched by fairy fingers.

The giant listened to the music for a long time; and Jack peeped out from the top of the bread box and listened too. But, by and by, the giant began to nod, then his eyes closed, and he snored so loudly that the harp stopped its music and did not play any more.

"Now, you'd better run back home," said the woman to Jack.

Jack crept out of the bread box and looked around. "I wish I had such a harp as that," he said.

"It is yours, if you will take it," said the woman; and she handed it to him.

Jack took the harp in his arms and ran. But just as he got to the door the harp cried out, "Master! master!"

The giant woke up with a start, and Jack rushed away. The harp kept crying, "Master! master!" The giant hurried out, and saw Jack far down thc road. But the big fellow had eaten and drunk so much that he could not run fast. He called out to Jack in great rage, and his voice sounded like thunder among the clouds.

Jack was half way down the beanstalk when the giant got to the top. The big fellow was afraid to step down among the branches, and so he stood there shaking his fist and roaring till Jack had reached the ground.

Then the harp cried out once more, "Master! master! master!"

When the giant heard it he swung himself down among the branches of the beanstalk and began to slide towards the ground. The branches were in his way a good deal, and he couldn't move very fast.

"Mother! mother! bring me the hatchet! bring me the hatchet!" cried Jack.

His mother ran out with the hatchet, but when she came to the foot of the beanstalk she was frightened almost to death; for she saw the giant coming down, and heard his great voice like thunder among the clouds.

Jack took the hatchet and began to chop at the beanstalk. Soon it trembled and shook, and then it toppled over, and fell with a great crash among the rocks and trees. Of course the giant came tumbling down with it, and I have heard it said that he was killed outright.

But Jack did not see him fall, and he would never believe that the big fellow was hurt at all. And there are some who claim that the giant still lives in the big tall house in the land of the sky. But no one can go and see; for there is no beanstalk to climb.

For a long time after that, Jack and his mother were busy every day, listening to the golden harp and selling golden eggs. They built themselves a fine house of their own, and bought the red cow back again. And by and by Jack married a beautiful princess and lived with her happily forever afterward.

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