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Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Why the Bean Wears a Stripe Down Its Back

I N a certain village there lived an old woman. One morning she gathered some beans from her garden to cook for her dinner. She had a good fire, but to make it burn more brightly she threw on a handful of straw. As she tossed the beans into the pot to boil she did not see that one of them fell on the floor, not far from a wisp of straw which had fallen there also.

Suddenly a red-hot coal jumped out of the fire, and down beside the straw and the bean. They both started away and exclaimed: "Dear friend, don't come nearer until you are cooler! What brings you out here?"

"Oh," replied the coal, "I jumped out of the fire to save my life, for presently I should have been burned to ashes."

Then said the bean: "I, too, have just escaped, for if the old woman had put me into the pot, I should have been made into broth."

"And I, too, should have been burned," said the straw, "if I had not managed to slip through her fingers just as she was putting me in the fire."

"What shall we do now?" asked the coal.

"I think," answered the bean, "that as long as we have been so fortunate as to escape, we may as well travel together to some more friendly country."

The three agreed to this, so they started on their journey.

Very soon they came to a brook, and, as there was no bridge, they did not know how to get to the other side. Then the straw said: "I will stretch myself across the brook, and you can walk over me, as if I were a bridge."

So the straw stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal walked out very boldly upon the newly built bridge. All went well, at first, but when he reached the middle of the stream and heard the water rushing under him he stood still and dared not move a step.

Then a sad thing happened! The straw began to bend from the weight of the coal, and fell into the brook. And, with a loud splash, the coal slid into the water, too!

The bean had stayed behind, on the shore, and when she saw what had happened she laughed so heartily that she burst!

Now, she would have been worse off than her comrades had not a tailor, who was traveling by, stopped to rest by the brook. He noticed the bean, and, taking pity on her, took a needle out of his pocket and sewed her together. She thanked him for his kindness; but, ah! He had only black thread with which to sew her up. Ever since that day some of the beans have worn black stripes down their backs.

— Adapted from Grimm
by Clara M. Lewis