Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson

Jack and the Bean-Stalk

L ONG, long ago there lived a poor widow who had a little boy named Jack. It was not easy for the woman to get a living; but she owned a cow that gave a great deal of milk, and some of the milk they drank and some she sold. So they contrived to get along until at last the cow went dry.

"What shall I do now?" said the woman sorrowfully, and she was ready to weep.

"Cheer up, mother," said Jack; "I will go and get work."

"You are too small," replied his mother. "No one would hire you. Ah, well, I must take our cow to market and sell her."

So the woman tied a rope to the cow's horns and led her away; but she had not gone far when she met a funny-looking old man who stopped and said, "Good-morning, madam."

"Good-morning to you," was her response.

"And where are you off to this morning?" asked the old man.

"I am going to market to sell my cow," the woman answered.

"If that is the case," said the old man, "I'll save you the trouble of going any farther, for I will buy your cow right here."

"And how much will you give me for her?" inquired the woman.

Then the old man took a little bag from his pocket and opened it for her to look inside; but all she saw in the bag was a handful of beans. "I will give you these beans for your cow," said the old man.

"I would rather not make such an exchange as that," the woman said. "Those beans would not be enough for one meal."

"Oh, they are not for you to eat!" exclaimed the old man. "You must plant them. They are magic beans that will bring you good luck, and they are worth much more than your cow."

The woman looked again, and she saw that the beans were very curious and of many pretty colors; and at last she said she would take them and let the old man have the cow. But on her way home, the more she thought about what she had done the more foolish she thought she had been, and when she reached the house she poured the beans out into her hand to look at them, and then threw them into the fireplace.

"I can't bear the sight of them," said she, "and now we shall soon starve, I suppose."

She thought that was the last of the beans, but one of them had rolled out across the floor, and the next day as she was sweeping she swept up the little bean. She did not notice it, and she swept it along and along and might have swept it into the fireplace; but her little boy Jack saw it and he picked it up and said, "I'm going to plant this bean, mother."

So he took it out to the garden and dug a hole and planted it. After that he was all the time running out to see if his bean had come up, and when it did come up he was all the time running out to see how it was growing.

On the first morning after he planted it he found its first leaves had already pushed their way up out of the ground. The next morning it was as tall as he was; and the next day after that it was as high as the house, and the next day after that it was as high as the church steeple. So it kept growing until its top was clear out of sight.

Then Jack said, "I'm going to climb this bean-stalk," and he climbed and climbed and climbed, and at last he reached the sky.

There he found a strange country without a tree, shrub, house, or living creature anywhere in sight. He sat down on a stone to rest and said, "Humph! if this is all there is up here I may as well go back home."

But while he was resting he noticed that a rough path led away from near where he sat over a hill, and then he saw a beautiful lady walking along the path toward him. She spoke to Jack as soon as she came to him, and he rose and took off his hat. "I am a fairy," said she, "and the country where you now are is on the borders of Fairy-land. I have come to tell you something about your father. Do you remember him?"

"No," replied Jack, "and when I ask my mother about him she always begins to cry and will say nothing."

"I thought as much," said the fairy, "and you will understand why your mother never speaks of him when you hear my story. He was a brave and generous knight, and the fairies were his friends and made him many wonderful presents. But after a time a wicked giant came to your father's castle and killed him, and carried off all the wonderful things the fairies had given him. At the same time the giant carried off your mother and you, who were then a little baby. He shut you both up in one of his dungeons, but at last he offered to restore your mother and you to liberty on condition that she should never speak about her wrongs to any one. She agreed, and he carried her to a place a great distance from where she had lived and been known before, and left her there with just money enough to rent a little cottage and buy a cow.

"That giant lives in this country, and if you follow the path by which you saw me come you will find his castle over yonder hill. All that he has is rightfully yours, and perhaps you can contrive some way to regain possession of what he stole from your father."

Then the fairy went on her way, and Jack, after thinking things over, concluded he would go on by the path that led toward the hill. Beyond the hill in a valley he came to a great castle, and on the doorstep sat a giant woman. It was almost night, and Jack went up to the giantess and said very politely, "Good-evening, ma'am. Would you be so kind as to give me some supper?"

"Is it supper you want?" said the big woman. "It's supper you'll be if you don't move away from here. My man is a giant, and he likes to eat little boys."


"But I am very hungry," said Jack, "and I've had no food at all this day since early morning."

"Well, well," said the giantess, "I don't wonder you are hungry, then. Come along to the kitchen and I'll see what I can find for you."

So the giant's wife took Jack into the kitchen and gave him a piece of cheese and a bowl of bread and milk. He had not quite finished eating when, tramp! tramp! tramp! he heard the steps of some one coming, and the whole castle trembled with the heavy footfalls.

"Gracious me!" exclaimed the giant's wife, "that's my man. Be quick now and jump into the oven or he'll catch you;" and she bundled Jack into the oven just as the giant came in.

The giant looked around the room and sniffed the air. "Fe-fi-fo-fum, I smell fresh meat!" said he.

"Yes," his wife responded, "the crows brought a piece of raw flesh to-day to the top of the house and dropped it on the roof."

"Ha!" said the giant, "I thought it was something nearer and fresher than that;" but he sat down at the table and Jack watched him through a crevice of the oven door, and was amazed to see the quantity of food that he ate.

After supper was done the giant's wife cleared away the dishes and went off to bed. "I am getting a bit sleepy myself," said the giant; "but I must have a look at my money," and he went to a big chest and took out several bags full of gold coins and returned to the table. He sat down and began to empty the bags one by one and was counting his wealth when he nodded off into a nap, and was soon snoring with a noise like thunder.

Jack then climbed out of the oven, and by getting on a chair beside the table he reached one of the bags of gold, and off he ran with it. As soon as he came to the bean-stalk he called out, "Hump it and bump it and down I go," and in a little while he was at the foot of the bean-stalk in his mother's garden.

Then he hurried to the house. There was a light in the window, and his mother was waiting for him in great anxiety, and was overjoyed to have him safely back.

They had money enough now, but Jack could not help thinking how many things the giant had which were rightfully theirs, and it was not long before he again climbed the bean-stalk. This time he carried some food, so that he did not have to beg of the giant's wife, and when he came to the great castle he got behind a rock and watched until he saw the giantess come out to the well with a pail after water. While she was busy at the well he ran into the kitchen and hid in a closet.

In a little while the woman brought in the pail of water, and by and by, tramp! tramp! came the giant. He began to sniff as soon as he entered the kitchen. "Fe-fi-fo-fum! I smell fresh meat!" he said.

"Do you?" said his wife. "Supposing we look around, then. If there's anybody hiding here it's likely to be in the oven."

So they both went to the oven, but luckily Jack was not there. "Well," said the giant's wife, "it's empty, and I thought it would be, and I'm tired of hearing your fe-fi-fo-fum!"

The giant wanted to look farther, but his wife said, "No, I won't have you messing up the house. I know just how you would do it. You would turn everything that you could lay your hands on topsy-turvy. Besides, your supper is ready."

So the giant sat down and had his supper. After he had eaten, he said, "Wife, bring me the hen that lays the golden eggs."

She brought the hen and put it on the table. "If you don't need me any more, my dearie," said she, "I will go to the next room to finish some sewing I have there."

"No, I don't need you," replied the giant, "go along." Then he took the little hen, and said, "Lay;" and the hen laid an egg of solid gold.

The giant took the egg in his hand, and looked at it for a while; but pretty soon he fell asleep and snored so that the house shook. Then Jack crept out of the closet and climbed on a chair by the table and grabbed the little hen and ran. That frightened the hen, and it gave a cackle which woke the giant. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, and Jack, who was now out of the door, heard him calling, "Wife, wife, what have you done with my golden hen?"

Jack heard her come hurrying to the kitchen from the next room and asking, "Why, my dear?"

But Jack kept running, and he got too far away to hear any more. In a short time he came to the bean-stalk, and shouted, "Hump it and bump it and down I go!" and soon he was at the foot of the bean-stalk and went into the house to his mother.

They took the best of care of the hen, and every day Jack told it to lay, and it laid a golden egg. But after a time Jack went up the bean-stalk again, and he kept going up every few days, until he had carried off pretty much all that the giant had. Finally, one night he tried to get the giant's bed-quilt. The quilt was made of silk of many colors, and it had beautiful jewels on it, and all along the edge were little silver bells that went tinkle, tinkle when Jack began to pull it.

The giant heard the bells and called out, "Who's round my house this dark, dismal night?"

Jack kept perfectly still until the giant was snoring, and then he pulled the quilt off a little farther. The bells went tinkle, tinkle, and the giant woke up and called out, "Who's round my house this dark, dismal night?"

So Jack stopped pulling and stayed as quiet as a mouse; but every time the giant fell asleep Jack got the bed-quilt a little farther off, till at last he had it all, and ran away with it. However, the bells made such a jingling as Jack ran that the giant was roused from his sleep and jumped up and started after him. Jack ran very swiftly, and got to the bean-stalk first. "Hump it and bump it and down I go," he shouted, and it did not take him long to get to his mother's garden.


But the giant was climbing down the bean-stalk after him, and the bean-stalk was shaking beneath the monster's weight. Jack could hear the giant coming, and when he looked up he saw the giant's legs just appearing through the clouds. Then Jack hurried to the woodshed and got a hatchet and began to chop at the bean-stalk. The giant felt the bean-stalk quiver, and stopped to look down to find out what was the matter. Just at that moment Jack gave a blow with his hatchet that brought bean-stalk, giant, and all tumbling to the earth, and that was the end of the wicked giant.

As for Jack and his mother, they were rich people after that.

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