Gateway to the Classics: The Book of Fables and Folk Stories by Horace E. Scudder
The Book of Fables and Folk Stories by  Horace E. Scudder

Jack and the Bean-Stalk

The Beans Are Planted

In the days of King Alfred a poor woman lived in a country village in England. She had an only son, Jack, who was a good-natured, idle boy. She was too easy with him. She never set him at work, and soon there was nothing left them but their cow. Then the mother began to weep and to think that she had brought up her boy very ill.

"Cruel boy!" she said. "You have at last made me a beggar. I have not money enough to buy a bit of bread. We cannot starve. We must sell the cow, and then what shall we do?"

At first Jack felt very badly and wished he had done better. But soon he began to think what fun it would be to sell the cow. He begged his mother to let him go with the cow to the nearest village. She was not very willing. She did not believe Jack knew enough to sell a cow, but at last she gave him leave.

Off went Jack with the cow. He had not gone far when he met a Butcher.

"Where are you going with your cow?" asked the Butcher.

"I am going to sell it," said Jack. The Butcher held his hat in his hand and shook it. Jack looked into the hat and saw some odd looking beans. The Butcher saw him eye them. He knew how silly Jack was, so he said to him:—

"Well, if you wish to sell your cow, sell her to me. I will give you all these beans for her."

Jack thought this a fine bargain. He gave the Butcher the cow and took the beans. He ran all the way home and could hardly wait to reach the house. He called out to his mother to see what he had got for the cow.

When the poor woman saw only a few beans, she burst into tears. She was so vexed that she threw the beans out of the window. She did not even cook them for supper. They had nothing else to eat, and they went to bed hungry.

Jack awoke early the next morning and thought it very dark. He went to the window and could hardly see out of it, for it was covered with something green. He ran downstairs and into the garden. There he saw a strange sight.

The beans had taken root and shot up toward the clouds. The stalks were as thick as trees, and were wound about each other. It was like a green ladder, and Jack at once wished to climb to the top.

He ran in to tell his mother, but she begged him not to climb the bean-stalk. She did not know what would happen. She was afraid to have him go. Who ever saw such bean-stalks before?

But Jack had set his heart on climbing, and he told his mother not to be afraid. He would soon see what it all meant. So up he climbed. He climbed for hours. He went higher and higher, and at last, quite tired out, he reached the top.

Jack Captures a Hen

Then he looked about him. It was all new. He had never seen such a place before. There was not a tree or plant; there was no house or shed. Some stones lay here and there, and there were little piles of earth. He could not see a living person.

Jack sat down on one of the stones. He wished he were at home again. He thought of his mother. He was hungry, and he did not know where to get anything to eat. He walked and walked, and hoped he might see a house.

He saw no house, but at last he saw a lady walking alone. He ran toward her, and when he came near, he pulled off his cap and made a bow. She was a beautiful lady, and she carried in her hand a stick. A peacock of fine gold sat on top of the stick.

The lady smiled and asked Jack how he came there. He told her all about the bean-stalk. Then she said:—

"Do you remember your father?"

"No," said Jack. "I do not know what became of him. When I speak of him to my mother, she cries, but she tells me nothing."

"She dare not," said the lady, "but I will tell you. I am a fairy. I was set to take care of your father, but one day I was careless. So I lost my power for a few years, and just when your father needed me most I could not help him, and he died."

Jack saw that she was very sorry as she told this story, but he begged her to go on.

"I will," she said, "and you may now help your mother. But you must do just as I tell you."

Jack promised.

"Your father was a good, kind man. He had a good wife, he had money, and he had friends. But he had one false friend. This was a Giant. Your father had once helped this Giant, but the Giant was cruel. He killed your father and took all his money. And he told your mother she must never tell you about your father. If she did, then the Giant would kill her and kill you too.

"You were a little child then, and your mother carried you away in her arms. I could not help her at the time, but my power came back to me yesterday. So I made you go off with the cow, and I made you take the beans, and I made you climb the bean-stalk.

"This is the land where the Giant lives. You must find him and rid the world of him. All that he has is yours, for he took it from your father. Now go. You must keep on this road till you see a great house. The Giant lives there. I cannot tell you what you must do next, but I will help you when the time comes. But you must not tell your mother anything."

The fairy disappeared and Jack set out. He walked all day, and when the sun set, he came to the Giant's house. He went up to it and saw a plain woman by the door. This was the Giant's wife. Jack spoke to her and asked her if she would give him something to eat and a place where he could sleep.

"What!" she said. "Do you not know? My husband is a Giant. He is away now, but he will be back soon. Sometimes he walks fifty miles in a day to see if he can find a man or a boy. He eats people. He will eat you if he finds you here."

Jack was in great fear, but he would not give up. He asked the Giant's wife to hide him somewhere in the house. She was a kind woman, so she led him in. They went through a great hall, and then through some large rooms. They came to a dark passage, and went through it. There was a little light, and Jack could see bars of iron at the side. Behind the bars were wretched people. They were the prisoners of the Giant.

Poor Jack thought of his mother and wished himself at home again. He began to think the Giant's wife was as bad as the Giant, and had brought him in to shut him up here. Then he thought of his father and marched boldly on.

They came to a room where a table was set. Jack sat down and began to eat. He was very hungry and soon forgot his fears. But while he was eating, there came a loud knock at the outside door. It was so loud that the whole house shook. The Giant's wife turned pale.

"What shall I do?" she cried. "It is the Giant. He will kill you and kill me too! What shall I do?"

"Hide me in the oven," said Jack. There was no fire under it, and Jack lay in the oven and looked out. The Giant came in and scolded his wife, and then he sat down and ate and drank for a long time. Jack thought he never would finish. At last the Giant leaned back in his chair and called out in a loud voice:—

"Bring me my hen!"

His wife brought a beautiful hen and placed it on the table.

"Lay!" roared the Giant, and the hen laid an egg of solid gold.

"Lay another!" And the hen laid another. So it went on. Each time the hen laid a larger egg than before. The Giant played with the hen for some time. Then he sent his wife to bed, but he sat in his chair. Soon he fell asleep, and then Jack crept out of the oven and seized the hen. He ran out of the house and down the road. He kept on till he came to the bean-stalk, and climbed down to his old home.

The Giant's Money-Bags

Jack's mother was very glad to see him. She was afraid that he had come to some ill end.

"Not a bit of it, mother," said he. "Look here!" and he showed her the hen. "Lay!" he said to the hen, and the hen laid an egg of gold.

Jack and his mother now had all they needed, for they had only to tell the hen to lay, and she laid her golden egg. They sold the egg and had money enough. But Jack kept thinking of his father, and he longed to make another trial. He had told his mother about the Giant and his wife, but he had said nothing about the fairy and his father.

His mother begged Jack not to climb the bean-stalk again. She said the Giant's wife would be sure to know him, and he never would come back alive. Jack said nothing, but he put on some other clothes and stained his face and hands another color. Then, one morning, he rose early and climbed the bean-stalk a second time.

He went straight to the Giant's house. The Giant's wife was again at the door, but she did not know him. He begged for food and a place to sleep. She told him about the Giant, and then she said:—

"There was once a boy who came just as you have come. I let him in, and he stole the Giant's hen and ran away. Ever since the Giant has been very cruel to me. No, I cannot let you come in."

But Jack begged so hard that at last, she let him in. She led him through the house, and he saw just what he had seen before. She gave him something to eat, and then she hid him in a closet. The Giant came along in his heavy boots. He was so big, that the house shook. He sat by the fire for a time. Then he looked about and said:—

"Wife, I smell fresh meat."

"Yes," she said. "The crows have been flying about. They left some raw meat on top of the house. Then she made haste and got some supper for the Giant. He kept talking about his hen, and was very cross. So it went on as before. The Giant ate and drank. Then he called to his wife:—

"Bring me something. I want to be amused. You let that rascal steal my hen. Bring me something."

"What shall I bring?" she asked meekly.

"Bring me my money-bags; they are as heavy as anything." So she tugged two great bags to the table. One was full of silver and one was full of gold. The Giant sent his wife to bed. Then he untied the strings, emptied his bags, and counted his money. Jack watched him, and said to himself:—

"That is my father's money."


By and by the Giant was tired. He put the money back into the bags and tied the strings. Then he went to sleep. He had a dog to watch his money, but Jack did not see the dog. So when the Giant was sound asleep, Jack came out of the closet and laid hold of the bags.

At this the dog barked, and Jack thought his end had come. But the Giant did not wake, and Jack just then saw a bit of meat. He gave it to the dog, and while the dog was eating it, Jack took the two bags and was off.

The Harp

It was two whole days before he could reach the bean-stalk, for the bags were very heavy. Then he climbed down with them. But when he came to his house the door was locked. No one was inside, and he knew not what to do.

After a while he found an old woman who showed him where his mother was. She was very sick in another house. The poor thing had been made ill by Jack's going away. Now that he had come back, she began to get well, and soon she was in her own house again.

Jack said no more about the Giant and the bean-stalk. For three years he lived with his mother. They had money enough, and all seemed well. But Jack could not forget his father. He sat all day before the bean-stalk. His mother tried hard to amuse him, and she tried to find out what he was thinking about. He did not tell her, for he knew all would then go wrong.

At last he could bear it no longer. He had changed in looks now, and he changed himself still more. Then, one bright summer morning, very early in the day, he climbed the bean-stalk once more. The Giant's wife did not know him when he came to the door of the house. He had hard work to make her let him in.

This time he was hidden in the copper boiler. The Giant again came home, and was in a great rage.

"I smell fresh meat!" he cried. His wife could do nothing with him, and he began to go about the room. He looked into the oven, and into the closet, and then he came to the great boiler. Jack felt his heart stop. He thought now his end had come, surely. But the Giant did not lift the lid. He sat down by the fire and had his supper.

When supper was over, the Giant told his wife to bring his harp. Jack peeped out of the copper and saw a most beautiful harp. The Giant placed it on the table, and said:—


Jack never heard such music as the harp played. No hands touched it. It played all by itself. He thought he would rather have the harp than the hen or all the money. By and by the harp played the Giant to sleep. Then Jack crept out and seized the harp. He was running off with it, when some one called loudly:—

"Master! Master!"

It was the harp, but Jack would not let it go. The Giant started up, and saw Jack with the harp running down the road.

"Stop, you rascal!" he shouted. "You stole my hen and my money-bags. Do you steal my harp? I'll catch you, and I'll break every bone in your body!"


"Catch me if you can!" said Jack. He knew he could run faster than the Giant. Off they went, Jack and the harp, and the Giant after them. Jack came to the bean-stalk. The harp was all the while playing music, but now Jack said:—

"Stop!" and the harp stopped playing. He hurried down the bean-stalk with the harp. There sat his mother, by the cottage, weeping.

"Do not cry, mother," he said. "Quick, bring me a hatchet! Make haste!" He knew there was not a minute to spare. The Giant was already coming down. He was half-way down when Jack took his hatchet and cut the bean-stalk down, close to its roots. Over fell the bean-stalk, and down came the Giant upon the ground. He was killed on the spot.

In a moment the fairy was seen. She told Jack's mother everything, and how brave he had been. And that was the end. The bean-stalk never grew again.

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