Gateway to the Classics: A Child's Book of Stories by Penrhyn W. Coussens
A Child's Book of Stories by  Penrhyn W. Coussens

Jack and the Bean-Stalk

I N the days of King Alfred, there lived a poor woman, in a remote country village in England, a great many miles from London. She had been a widow some years, and had an only son named Jack, whom she indulged in every wish. The consequence of this was that Jack did not pay the least attention to anything she said, but was idle, careless, and wasteful. His follies were not owing to a bad disposition, but to the fact that his mother had never checked him. By degrees she spent all that she had—scarcely anything was left to her but a cow.

The poor woman one day met Jack with tears in her eyes. Her distress was great, and for the first time in her life she could not help scolding him, saying, "Oh! you cruel child; you have at last brought me to beggary and ruin. I have not money enough to purchase even a bit of bread for another day. Nothing now remains to sell but my poor cow. I am sorry to part with her. It grieves me sadly, but we must not starve!"

For a few minutes Jack felt sorry, but this feeling soon passed away, and he began teasing his mother to let him sell the cow at the next village, and at last she gave her consent. As he was going along he met a butcher, who inquired why he was driving the cow from home. Jack replied that he was going to sell it. Now the butcher held some curious beans in his hat. They were of various colors and attracted Jack's attention. This the butcher noticed, and, knowing Jack's easy temper, thought this was the time to take advantage of it. He could not let slip so good an opportunity, so he 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 hide the joy he felt at what he supposed was so good an offer, and the bargain was struck at once. The cow was thus exchanged for a few paltry beans. Jack made the best of his way back, calling aloud to his mother before he reached home, thinking in this way to surprise her.

When she saw the beans and heard Jack's story, her patience quite forsook her. She was so angry that she threw the beans out the window, and they were scattered in all directions, some falling into the garden. Then she threw her apron over her head and cried bitterly. 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. Here he found that some of the beans had taken root, and had sprung up in a wonderful manner. The stalks were of an immense thickness, and had so twined together that they formed a ladder like a chain. Looking up he could not see the top, it appeared to be lost in the clouds. He tried it, and found it firm and not to be shaken.

He quickly made up his mind to climb to the top, in order to seek his fortune, and ran to tell his mother what he meant to do, not doubting but she would be as pleased as he was. She declared he should not go; she said it would break her heart if he did. She begged and prayed him not to go, but all in vain, for Jack set out, and after climbing for some hours reached to top of the bean-stalk, tired and quite worn out. 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 sadly upon a block of stone and thought of his mother. He thought with sorrow upon his disobedience in climbing the bean-stalk against her will; and after a while began to fear that he must die of hunger. However, he walked on, hoping to find a house where he might beg something to eat and drink. Presently he saw in the distance a handsome young woman; as she approached, Jack could not help admiring her for her beauty. She was dressed in the most elegant style, and had a small white wand in her hand, on the top of which was a peacock of pure gold.

While Jack was looking with the greatest surprise at this charming person, she came up to him, and with a sweet smile asked how he came there. Jack told her all about the bean-stalk. She asked him if he remembered his father. He replied that he did not; and added, there must be some mystery about him, because when he asked his mother about his father, she always would weep and would tell him nothing. He could not help noticing that she would never answer his questions, and she even seemed afraid of speaking, as if there was some secret connected with his father's history which she must not tell.

The young woman replied: "I will tell the whole story; your mother must not do so. But, before I begin, I require a solemn promise on your part to do what I tell you. I am a fairy, and if you do not perform exactly what I desire, you will be destroyed." Jack was frightened at her threats, but promised to do exactly as she bade him, and the fairy then said:—

"Your father was a rich man. He was very good to the poor and constantly helped them. He made it a rule never to let a day pass without doing good to some one. On one day in the week he kept open house and invited only those who were poor but had once lived well. He always sat at the head of the table himself, and did all in his power to make his guests comfortable. The rich and the great, however, were not invited. The servants were all happy, and greatly loved their master and mistress. Now a giant lived a great many miles off, and he was altogether as wicked as your father was good. He was in his heart envious, covetous, and cruel, but he had the art of hiding those vices.

"He was poor, and wished to get rich no matter how. Hearing your father spoken of, he thought it would be a good thing to make friends with him and get into his good graces. He removed quickly into your neighborhood, where he pretended that he was a gentleman who had just lost all he had by an earthquake, and found it difficult to escape with his life.

"Your father believed his story, and pitied him. He gave him handsome rooms in his own house, and caused him and his wife to be treated like visitors of importance, little imagining that the giant was planning to make him a horrid return for all his kindness.

"Things went on in this way for some time, the giant becoming daily more impatient to carry out his plan. At las his chance came. Your father's house was at some distance from the seashore, but with a glass the coast could be seen distinctly. The giant was one day using the telescope. The wind was very high, and he saw a fleet of ships in distress off the rock. He hastened to your father, mentioned the circumstance, and eagerly begged him to send all the servants he could spare to help the sufferers.

"Every one was at once sent off, except the porter and your nurse. The giant then joined your father in the study, and appeared to be delighted—he really was so. Your father recommended to him a favorite book, and was handing it down, when the giant took the opportunity, and stabbed him, killing him instantly. The giant left the body, found the porter and nurse, and at once killed them, being determined to have no living witnesses of his crimes.

"You were then only three months old. Your mother had you in her arms in another part of the house, and did not know what was going on. She went into the study, but how was she shocked on finding your father a corpse! She was overcome with horror and grief, and could not move from the spot. The giant, who was seeking her, found her in that state, and was about to serve her and you as he had done your father, but she fell at his feet, and begged him to spare your life and hers.

"Remorse, for a moment, seemed to touch the villain's heart. He granted your lives, but first he made her take a most solemn oath never to tell you who your father was, or to answer any questions about him, assuring her that if she did he would certainly find it out, and put both of you to death in the most cruel manner.

"Your mother took you in her arms and fled as quickly as possible. She was scarcely gone when the giant repented that he had allowed her to escape. He would have pursued her instantly, but he had to look out for his own safety, as it was necessary he should be gone before the servants returned. Having gained your father's confidence, he knew where to find all his treasure. Therefore, he soon loaded himself and his wife with it, set the house on fire in several places, and when the servants came back the house was burned quite down to the ground.

"Your poor mother, forlorn, alone, and forsaken, wandered with you a great many miles from her home. At last she settled in the cottage where you were brought up, and it was entirely owing to her fear of the giant that she never spoke of your father to you. I became your father's guardian at his birth; but fairies have laws to which they are subject as well as mortals. A short time before the giant went to your father's house, I did something wrong; to punish me my power was taken away for a time—an unfortunate circumstance, as it totally prevented my helping him.

"The day on which you met the butcher, as you went to sell your mother's cow, my power was given me again. It was I who made you take the beans in exchange for the cow, though you did not know it. By my power the bean-stalk grew to so great a height and became a ladder. I need not add that I gave you the strong desire to climb up the ladder.

"Now, the giant lives in this country, and you are the person appointed to punish him for all his wickedness. You will have dangers and difficulties, but you must persevere in avenging the death of your father, or you will not prosper in anything you do, but will always be miserable. As to the giant's possessions, you may seize on all you can; for everything he has is yours because it belonged to your father, though now you are unjustly deprived of it. One thing I desire,—do not let your mother know you are acquainted with your father's history till you see me again. Go along the direct road, you will soon see the house where your cruel enemy lives. While you do as I order you, I will protect and guard you; but, remember, if you dare disobey my orders, a most dreadful punishment awaits you."

When the fairy had ended she disappeared, leaving Jack to pursue his journey. He walked on till after sunset, when, to his great joy, he saw a large mansion. This pleasant sight cheered him greatly; he walked as fast as he could and soon reached it.

A plain-looking woman was at the door; he spoke to her and begged that she would give him a morsel of bread and a night's lodging.

She expressed the greatest surprise at seeing him, and said it was quite uncommon to see a human being near their house, for it was well known that her husband was a large and very powerful giant, and that he would never eat anything but human flesh if he could possibly get it. She said, also, that he did not think anything of walking fifty miles to get it, usually being out the whole day for that purpose.

This account greatly terrified Jack, but still he hoped to escape from the giant; and therefore, again he begged the woman to take him in for one night only, and hide him where she thought he would be safe. The good woman was at last persuaded, for she was of a kindly and generous nature, and took him into the house.

First, they entered a fine large hall, magnificently furnished; they then passed through several spacious rooms, all in the same style or grandeur; but the rooms appeared to be quite forsaken and desolate. A long gallery was 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 poor victims whom the cruel giant kept in confinement.

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 fear that he should never see her more, and gave himself up for lost. He even did not trust the good woman, and thought she had let him into the house for no other purpose than to lock him up among the poor people in the dungeon.

At the farther end of the long gallery there was a very large kitchen, and a good fire was burning in the grate. The good woman told Jack to sit down, and gave him plenty to eat and drink. Jack, not seeing anything here to make him uncomfortable, soon forgot his fear, and was just beginning to enjoy himself when he was aroused by a loud knocking at the street door, which made the whole house shake. The giant's wife ran to hide him in the oven, and then went to let her husband in. Jack heard him accost her in a voice like thunder, saying, "Wife, I smell fresh meat."

"Oh! my dear," replied she, "it is nothing but the people in the dungeon."

The giant appeared to believe her, and walked into the very kitchen where poor Jack was hidden, who was more frightened than he had yet been.

At last the monster seated himself quietly by the fireside, while his wife made the supper. Little by little Jack got over his fright so far as to be able to look at the giant through a small crack, and he was quite astonished to see what an enormous quantity he ate; it seemed as if he never would have done eating and drinking.

When supper was ended, the giant desired his wife to bring him his hen. A very beautiful hen was then brought and placed on the table before him. Jack's desire to see what would happen was very great, and soon he saw that every time the giant said "Lay!" the hen laid an egg of solid gold. The giant amused himself a long time with his hen, and meanwhile his wife went to bed. At length the giant fell asleep by the fireside and snored like the roaring of a cannon.

At daybreak, Jack, finding the giant still asleep, and not likely to awaken soon, crept softly out of his hiding-place, seized the hen, and ran off with her. He met with some difficulty in finding his way out of the house, but at last he reached the road in safety. He easily found the way to the bean-stalk, and contrived to get down it better and quicker than he expected.

He found his mother crying bitterly over his hard fate, for she was certain he had come to some sad end through his rashness. Jack was impatient to show his hen, and inform his mother how valuable it was.

"And now, mother," said Jack, "I have brought home that which will quickly make us rich; and I hope to make up for the sorrow I have caused you through my idleness, wastefulness, and folly."

The hen laid as many golden eggs as they wished; they sold them, and in a little time they became possessed of as much riches as they wanted.

For some months Jack and his mother lived very happily together; but he was very desirous of traveling; he remembered the fairy's commands, and he feared that if he delayed she would put her threats into execution. Jack longed also to climb the bean-stalk and pay the giant another visit, in order to carry away some more of his treasures. For during the time that Jack was in the giant's mansion, and while he lay concealed in the oven, he learned from the talk between the giant and his wife that he had many wonderful things in his house. Jack thought of his journey again and again, but still he could not make up his mind to speak of it to his mother, being quite sure that she would try to prevent his going.

However, one day he told her boldly that he must take a journey up the bean-stalk; but she begged and prayed him not to think of it, and tried all in her power to keep him from doing so. 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 he said was useless, pretended to give it up, though he made up his mind to go at all events. So he had a dress made which would disguise him, and found something to color his skin in such a way that he thought it would be impossible for any one to know him again.

A few mornings after this, he arose very early, colored the skin of his face, and, unseen by any one, climbed the bean-stalk a second time. He was very tired when he reached the top, and very hungry. But after resting some time on one of the stones, he went on his way to the giant's mansion. He reached it late in the evening, and found the woman at the door as before. Jack told her a pitiful tale, and begged of her to give him some victuals and drink, and also a night's lodging.

She told him (what he knew before very well) what a powerful and cruel giant her husband was; and also that one night she took into her house a poor, hungry, friendless boy, who was half dead with travelling; but 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 scolding her for being the cause of his loss.

Jack at once knew that he was listening to a story in which he was the chief actor; he did his best to persuade the good woman to take him in, but he found it a very hard task. At last she consented; and as she led the way Jack saw 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, who had brought a piece of raw meat and left it on the top of the house.

Whilst supper was preparing, the giant was very cross and impatient, frequently scolding his wife for the loss of his wonderful hen.

The giant at last having eaten till he was quite satisfied, said to his wife, "I must have something to amuse me: either my bags of money or my harp."

After a great deal of ill humor, and having teased his wife some time, he told her to bring down his bags of gold and silver. Jack, as before, peeped out of his hiding-place, and presently the giant's wife brought two very large bags into the room. One was filled with gold and the other with silver pieces. They were both placed before the giant, who began scolding his poor wife most severely for being so long away. She replied, trembling with fear, that the bags were so heavy that she could scarcely lift them, and ended by saying that she would never again bring them downstairs, adding that she had nearly fainted, owing to their weight. This so enraged the giant that he raised his hand to strike her, but she ran away and went to bed, leaving him to count his treasure by way of amusement.

The giant took his bags, and after turning them over and over to see that they were in the same state as he left them, began to count their contents. First, the bag which contained the silver was emptied, and the contents placed upon the table. Jack saw the glittering heaps with delight and most heartily wished they were his own. The giant (little thinking he was so closely watched) counted the silver over several times; and then, having satisfied himself that all was safe, put it into the bag again, which he made very secure.

The other bag was opened next, and the golden pieces placed upon the table. If Jack was pleased at the sight of the silver, how much more delighted he felt when he saw such a heap of glittering gold! He even had the boldness to think of gaining both bags; but suddenly recollecting himself, he began to fear that the giant would sham sleep, the better to catch any one who might be hidden in the house. When the giant had counted over the gold till he was tired, he put it up more secure if possible than he had put up the silver before. Then he leaned back on his chair by the fireside and fell asleep. He 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, feeling sure the giant was asleep, stole out of his hiding-place and went near him, in order to carry off the two bags of money; but just as he laid his hand upon one of the bags, a little dog which he had not seen before started from under the giant's chair and barked at Jack most furiously. Jack now gave himself up for lost. Fear chained him to the spot. Instead of trying to escape, he stood still, though expecting the giant to wake every instant. Strange to say, however, the giant did not wake from his sound sleep, and the dog grew tired of barking.

Jack now began to have his wits about him, and on looking round he saw a large piece of meat. This he threw to the dog, which seized it at once and took it into the lumber closet which Jack had just left. Finding himself free from a noisy and troublesome enemy, and seeing the giant did not awake, Jack boldly seized the bags, and throwing them over his shoulders ran out of the kitchen. He reached the street door in safety and found it was quite daylight. On his way to the top of the bean-stalk he found it hard work to carry the heavy money-bags.

Jack was delighted when he found himself near the bean-stalk. When he reached it he soon went to the bottom, and at once ran to seek his mother. To his great surprise there was no one in the cottage. He ran from one room to another, but found no one. At las he ran into the village, hoping to see some of the neighbors, who might be able to tell him where he could find his mother. An old woman at last directed him to a house near by, where he found his mother ill of a fever. He was greatly shocked, for she seemed to be dying, and he could scarcely bear his own thoughts of knowing himself to be the cause of her sickness. But on being told of her son's safe return, his mother began to improve and at last became quite well again. Jack at once gave her his two valuable bags, and with the money the cottage was rebuilt and well furnished, and they lived happily and comfortable for a long time after.

For three years Jack heard no more of the bean-stalk, but he could not forget it, although he would not mention it for he feared to make his mother unhappy. She, too, would not mention the hated bean-stalk, lest it should remind her son of taking another journey. In spite of the comforts Jack enjoyed at home, he often thought about the bean-stalk; for the fairy's threats, in case of his disobedience, were ever present to his mind, and prevented him from being happy. The idea grew upon him so that he could think of nothing else. He vainly tried to amuse himself; he became quiet and sullen, and would arise at the dawn of day and look at the bean-stalk for hours together. His mother saw that something lay heavy upon his mind, and tried 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 desire grew too strong for him, he began to make secret preparations for his journey; and, on the longest day of the year, he arose as soon as it was light and climbed the bean-stalk, reaching the top with some little trouble. He found the road journey much as it was on the two former times. He arrived at the giant's mansion in the evening, and found his 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 told her of his hunger and poverty, in order to be allowed to enter the mansion, he found it very difficult indeed to persuade her. At last he succeeded, and was hidden in the copper again this time.

When the giant returned, he said, "I smell fresh meat."

But Jack felt quite easy in his mind, as the giant had said so before, and had been soon satisfied. However, the giant started up all at once, and his wife could not prevent him from searching all round the room.

Whilst this was going on, Jack was exceedingly frightened, and wished himself at home a thousand times. When the giant came near the copper and put his hand upon the lid, Jack thought his death was certain. The giant ended his search there, though, without moving the lid, and seated himself quietly by the fireside. This fright nearly killed poor Jack; he was afraid to move or even to breathe, lest he should be discovered. The giant at last ate a hearty supper, and when he had finished he commanded his wife to fetch down his harp.

Jack peeped under the copper lid, and soon saw the most beautiful harp that could be thought of; it was placed on the table by the giant, who said, "Play!" and it instantly played of its own accord without being touched. The music was wonderfully fine.

Jack was delighted, and felt more anxious to get the harp into his possession than either of the former treasures; fortunately for him the music soon lulled the giant into a sound sleep. Now, therefore, was the time to carry off the harp, as the giant appeared to be in a deeper sleep than usual.

Jack soon made up his mind, got out of the copper, and seized the harp. But the harp, being enchanted by a fairy, called out loudly, "Master! master!"

The giant awoke, stood up, and tried to run after Jack; but he had drank so much that he could hardly stand.

Poor Jack ran as fast as he could, and in a little time the giant recovered sufficiently to walk slowly, or rather to reel after him. Had he been sober, he must have overtaken Jack instantly; but as he then was Jack contrived to be first at the top of the bean-stalk. The giant called after him in a voice like thunder, and sometimes was very near him.

The moment Jack got down the bean-stalk he called out for a hatchet, and one was brought him directly. Now, just at that instant, the giant was beginning to descend; but Jack cut the bean-stalk with his hatchet close off at the root, which made the giant fall headlong into the garden. The fall was so great that it killed him, thereby releasing the world from a barbarous enemy.

At this instant the fairy appeared, and first addressed Jack's mother, explaining every circumstance relating to the journeys up the bean-stalk. The fairy charged Jack to be dutiful to his mother, and to follow his father's good example, which was the only way to be happy. She then disappeared. Jack heartily begged his mother's pardon for all the sorrow and affliction he had caused her, promising most faithfully to be very dutiful and obedient to her for the future.

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