Jack and the Beanstalk,

retold by Mary Lena Wilson

A long, long time ago there was a boy named Jack. He and his mother were very poor, and lived in a tiny cottage. Jack’s mother loved him so much that she could never say no to anything he asked. So whenever he wanted money she gave it to him, until at last all they had was gone. There was nothing left with which to buy supper. Then the poor woman began to cry, and said to her son:

“Oh, Jack, there is nothing in the house to eat; and there is no money to buy food. You will have to take the old cow to town and sell her. She is all we have left.”

Jack felt very bad when he saw his mother crying; so he quickly got the cow and started off to town. As he was walking along he passed the butcher, who stopped him and said:

“Why, Jack! what are you driving your cow away from home for?” And Jack replied sadly: “I am taking her to town to sell her.”

Then he noticed that the butcher held in his hand some colored beans. They were so beautiful he could not keep from staring at them.

Now, the butcher was a very mean man. He knew the cow was worth more than the beans, but he did not believe Jack knew it, so he said: “You let me have your cow, and I will give you a whole bag of these beans.”

Jack was so delighted that he could hardly wait to get the bag in his hand. He ran off home as fast as he could.

“Oh, mother, mother!” he shouted, as he reached the house; “see what I have got for the old cow!”

The good lady came hurrying out of the house, but when she saw only a bagful of colored beans she was so disappointed to think he had sold her cow “for nothing” that she flung the beans as far as she could. They fell everywhere—on the steps, down the road, and in the garden.

That night Jack and his mother had to go to bed without anything to eat.

Next morning, when Jack looked out of his window, he could hardly believe his eyes. In the garden where his mother had thrown some of the beans there were great beanstalks. They were twisted together so that they made a ladder. When Jack ran out to the garden to look more closely he found the ladder reached up, up—’way up into the clouds! It was so high he could not see the top.

Jack was very excited, and called to his mother: “Mother, dear, come quickly! My beans have grown into a beautiful beanstalk ladder that reaches to the sky! I am going to climb up and see what is at the top.”

Hour after hour he climbed, until he was so tired he could hardly climb any more. At last he came to the end, and peered eagerly over the top to see what was there. Not a thing was to be seen but rocks and bare ground.

“Oh,” said Jack to himself. “This is a horrid place. I wish I had never come.”

Just then he saw, hobbling along, a wrinkled, ragged old woman. When she reached Jack she looked at him and said:

“Well, my boy, where did you come from?”

“I came up the ladder,” answered Jack.

The old woman looked at him very sharply. “Do you remember your father?” she asked.

Jack thought this a queer question, but he replied: “No, I do not. Whenever I ask my mother about him she cries, and will not tell me.”

At this, the old woman leaned her face very close to Jack’s and snapped her bright eyes. “I will tell you,” she said, “for I am a Fairy!”

The Fairy smiled. “Do not be afraid, my dear, for I am a good, good Fairy. But before I tell you anything, you must promise to do exactly as I say.”

Jack promised, and the Fairy began her story.

“A long while ago, when you were only a tiny baby, your father and mother lived in a beautiful house, with plenty of money and servants and everything nice. They were very happy, because  everyone loved your father for the kind things he did. He always helped people who were poor and in trouble.

“Now, miles and miles away there was a wicked Giant. He was just as bad as your father was good. When he heard about your father he decided to do something very terrible. He went to your house and killed him. He would have killed you and your mother, too, but she fell down on her knees and begged: ‘Oh, please do not hurt me and my little baby. Take all our treasures, but do not kill us.’

“Now of course the money was what the Giant really wanted, so he said: ‘If you promise that you will never tell your little boy who his father was, or anything about me, I will let you go. If you do tell him, I shall find out and kill you both.’

“Your mother quickly promised, and ran out of the house as fast as she could. All day long she hurried over the rough roads with you in her arms. At last, when she could hardly walk a step further, she came to the little house where you live now.

“Now, my dear Jack. I am your father’s good fairy. The reason I could not help him against the wicked Giant was because I had done something wrong. When a fairy does something wrong she loses her power. My power did not come back to me until the day when you went to sell your cow. Then I put it into your head to sell the cow for the pretty beans. I made the beanstalk grow. I made you climb up the beanstalk.

“Now, Jack, this is the country where the wicked Giant lives. I had you come here so you could get back your mother’s treasure.”

When Jack heard this he was very excited.

“Follow the road,” said the Fairy, “and you will come to the Giant’s house. And do not forget that some day you are to punish the wicked Giant.” And then she disappeared.

Jack had not gone far before he came to a great house. In front of it stood a little woman. Jack went up to her and said very piteously: “Oh, please, good, kind lady, let me come in your beautiful house and have something to eat and a place to sleep.”

The woman looked surprised. “Why, what are you doing here?” she said. “Don’t you know this is where my husband, the terrible Giant, lives? No one dares to come near here. Every one my husband finds he has locked up in his house. Then when he is hungry he eats them! He walks fifty miles to find some one to eat.”

When Jack heard this he was very much afraid. But he remembered what the Fairy had told him, and once more he asked the woman to let him in.

“Just let me sleep in the oven,” he said. “The Giant will never find me there.”

He seemed so tired and sad that the woman couldn’t say no, and she gave him a nice supper.

Then they climbed a winding stair and reached a bright, cozy kitchen. Jack was just beginning to enjoy himself, when suddenly there was a great pounding at the front door.

“Quick, quick!” cried the Giant’s wife; “jump into the oven.”

Jack was no sooner safely hidden than he heard the Giant say, in tones of thunder:

“Fee, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman!”

When Jack heard this he thought surely the Giant knew that he was in the house, but the wife said calmly:

“Oh, my dear, it is probably the people in the dungeon.”

Then they both came down to the kitchen. The Giant sat so close to the oven that by peeping through a hole, Jack could easily see him. He was enormous! And how much he did eat and drink for his supper! When at last he was through, he roared:

“Wife, bring me my hen!” And the woman brought in a beautiful hen.

“Lay!” commanded the Giant; and what was Jack’s surprise when the hen laid a golden egg. Every time the Giant said: “Lay!”—and he said it many times—the hen obeyed.

At last both the woman and her husband fell asleep. But Jack did not dare to sleep. He sat all cramped and tired in the oven, watching the Giant.

When it began to get light he slowly pushed the oven door open and crawled out ever so softly. For a minute he hardly dared breathe for fear of waking the Giant. Then quick as a flash, he seized the hen and stole out of the house as fast as his feet could carry him.

He did not stop running until he reached the beanstalk. All out of breath, he climbed down the ladder with the hen in his arms.

Now, all this time, Jack’s poor mother thought her son was surely lost. When she saw him she said:

“Oh, Jack, why did you go off and leave me like that?”

“But, mother,” said Jack—and proudly he held out the hen—“see what I have brought you this time: a hen that lays golden eggs. Now we can have everything we want. You need never be sad  any more.”

Jack and his mother were very happy together for many months. Whenever they wanted anything, they just told the hen to lay a golden egg.

But after a while Jack remembered his promise to the Fairy to punish the Giant. So he said to his mother:

“Mother dear, I think I will go back and get some more of our treasure from the Giant.”

The poor woman felt very bad when her son said this. “Oh, please do not go, Jack,” she begged. “This time the Giant will find you and kill you for stealing his hen.”

Jack decided he would not worry his mother, but he would find a way to fool the Giant. He got some paint to color his skin brown and had a queer suit of clothes made so that no one could discover who he was. Without telling anyone, he got up early one morning and climbed up the beanstalk.

It was dark and cold before he reached the Giant’s house. There at the front door was the Giant’s wife; but she did not know Jack in his queer clothes.

“Good evening, Lady,” said Jack, very politely. “Will you let me in for a night’s rest? I am very tired and hungry.”

But the woman shook her head. “I can’t let anyone in. One night I let in a poor boy like yourself, and he stole my husband’s favorite treasure. My husband is a cruel Giant, and since his hen was stolen he has been worse than ever.”

“Oh, please let me come in just for to-night. If you don’t I shall have to lie here on the ground and die.”

“Well, I can’t let you do that. But mind, I shall have to hide you in the lumber-closet, or my husband may find you and eat you up.”

Of course, Jack was very glad to agree to do this. As soon as he was safely hidden away he heard a tremendous noise, and knew that the Giant had come home. The big fellow walked so heavily that he shook the whole house.

“Fe, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman!” he shouted.

“Oh, no, my dear,” she answered. “It is an old piece of meat that a crow left on the roof.”

“All right,” said the Giant. “Now, hurry and get my supper.” And with that he tried to strike his poor wife. Jack could see from where he was hiding that the Giant was even uglier than before.

“It was you who let in the boy that stole my hen,” he kept saying to her. And when Jack heard this he shivered for fear.

After his supper the Giant said in a very cross voice:

“Now, wife, bring me my bags of gold and silver.”

So the old woman brought in two huge bags and put them down on the table. The Giant opened each and poured out a great heap of silver and gold. For a long while he sat counting the money. But at last he began to get drowsy. So he put the gold carefully back and fell over in his chair asleep.

Jack thought maybe the Giant was only pretending to be asleep, so that he could catch anyone who might try to take his gold. But when the Giant had been snoring some time, the boy carefully opened the door of the closet and tip-toed over to the table. Not a sound could be heard except the terrible snoring of the Giant. Slowly Jack reached out to take the bags of money.

“Bow, wow, wow!” And a little dog, which Jack had not seen before, jumped up from a corner by the fire, barking furiously. Jack had never been so frightened in his life as now. Surely the Giant would wake and kill him.

But the Giant never woke at all. He had eaten so much that he couldn’t! So Jack snatched the bags, and dashed for the beanstalk.

When at last he reached the bottom, he ran at once to the cottage to show his mother the treasure.

For three years Jack and his mother lived very happily together. But all this time Jack could not forget his promise to the Fairy, and what might happen to him if he did not keep it.

At last he felt that he must go and kill the wicked Giant. He got some yellow paint and another queer suit, so that he would not look like himself at all. Early one morning, when it was barely light, he crept softly out of the house and climbed up into the Giant’s country.

This time he was bigger and older, and did not feel nearly so afraid as he had before. He met the Giant’s wife, just as he had the two other times; and after a great deal of coaxing she let him in, and hid him in the boiler.

He had barely gotten in when he felt the whole house shake, and knew that the Giant had come home.

“Fe, fi, fo, fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

He roared in a voice louder than ever. But now Jack was not at all scared. He remembered what had happened before, and thought he was quite  safe.

But this time the Giant would not listen to anything his wife said. He jumped up and began stumping around the room, shouting: “There is fresh meat here! I can smell it! Where is it?” And he put his hand right on the boiler.

Jack held his breath tight, and did not move a muscle. Just when he felt sure the Giant was going to lift off the lid and find him, he heard him say: “Well, never mind now. Bring me my supper.” And then he went over to the table and began to eat.

It seemed to Jack that he ate more than ever. But suddenly he stopped and called out: “Wife, bring me my harp.”

The poor woman ran at once and brought back the most beautiful harp Jack had ever seen. She placed it beside her husband, and he commanded: “Play!” And the most surprising thing happened: The harp began to play the loveliest tunes without anyone touching it at all. Jack thought he had never seen anything so wonderful, and said to himself:

“That harp really belongs to my mother. I shall get it away from the Giant and take it to her.”

Soon the Giant fell asleep. Jack crawled very quietly out of the boiler and up toward the table. He stretched out his hand to seize the harp; but just as his fingers touched it, it shouted: “Master, master, wake up!”

Jack was horrified, for he saw at once that the harp was the Giant’s fairy, and was trying to help him.

The Giant opened his eyes, but before he could get to his feet Jack was running for his life. Down the winding stair and through the dark hall he went. He felt the floor tremble as the Giant came roaring after him. He was panting for breath when he reached the front door, but did not dare to stop. If he did, he knew the Giant would catch him, and that would be the end of him.

And this is what surely would have happened, but the Giant had eaten so much for his supper that he could hardly run at all. Even so, he was close behind him all the way. And all the time he kept roaring and shouting, which frightened Jack all the more.

As soon as Jack reached the beanstalk he called out: “Someone quick! get me a hatchet!” Then he almost fell down the beanstalk in his hurry.

When he reached the bottom the Giant had already started to come down. “Oh, now,” thought poor Jack, “he will come and burn our house, and kill my mother and me.”

Just then a neighbor ran up to Jack with a hatchet. Jack grabbed it and cut down the beanstalk! With a terrible crash it fell to the ground, bringing the Giant with it.

Jack and his friends rushed up to where he fell.

“Oh, he is dead! He is dead!” they shouted.

When Jack’s mother heard this she came running out of the house and flung her arms around her son.

“Oh, mother, I am so sorry that I have been all this trouble to you. But I promise I shall never be any more.” And just at this moment the Fairy appeared.

“Yes,” she said. “Your Jack is a good boy. He did all this only because I told him to.” To Jack she said:

“Now, my dear, I hope you will always be good and kind to your mother. And I hope you will always be kind to the poor and unhappy people, just as your father was. If you are, I am sure that you will both be very happy as long as you live. Good-by, good-by, my dears!” And before they could thank her the Fairy disappeared.

Jack remembered all she had told him, and he and his mother lived together very happily all the rest of their lives.