In a small cottage near a country village, there once lived a poor woman who had only one child, a lad named Jack. Jack was a heedless young fellow, sound and good at heart, but much given to acting without thinking. Moreover, his mother had rarely corrected him as he grew up, so the consequence was that he worked when he chose and followed his pleasure when he chose. As Jack's mother was far from rich, and the lad worked so irregularly, she was obliged to support herself and him by selling everything she had. At last, nothing remained except one cow.
One day the mother said to her son with tears in her eyes, ''Oh, you heedless boy, while you were idly amusing yourself in the village, we have eaten up everything we had. I have not money enough left to buy even a bit of bread for today. Nothing remains but my poor cow, so we must sell it, or we will go hungry.” Jack was much ashamed of himself for a few moments, but, as he grew hungrier and hungrier, he teased his mother to let him sell the cow. Knowing nothing else to do, the mother sadly consented, bidding her son use good judgement and get a fair price in exchange.
So Jack started his walk for the market, but on his journey, he met a butcher, who asked why he was driving the cow from home. Jack replied he was going to sell it. Now the butcher had in a bag some beautiful beans of different colours, which caught Jack's fancy. This the butcher saw, and knowing Jack's easy temper, he made up his mind to take advantage of it, so he offered the beans for the cow. The foolish boy forgot all about their great need at home and thought only about what pleasure it would give him to have the beans. So the bargain was struck on the moment, and the butcher went off with the cow. Then Jack hastened home in great excitement and told his mother what he had done, but the poor woman burst at once into tears. “Foolish boy," she cried, *'now we have nothing at all to eat. You have sold my good cow for a few paltry beans that happened to tickle your fancy. Go play with your childish playthings, but we shall have no supper tonight." And she tossed the beans out the back door with all her strength, scattering them everywhere, while she continued to weep hot tears for her son's folly.
For the first time in his life, Jack was thoroughly sorry for what he had done; he now saw the beans for the useless things they were, and his mother's grief moved him deeply. Jack had no further wish to amuse himself. Instead, he went to his room to think. He remembered how good his mother had always been to him and how he had repaid her only with thoughtless idleness. Tonight, through his fault, she was going hungry. He sat a long, long time in sorrow and resolved the very next day to set himself earnestly to work.
Early in the morning, he arose from his bed, but he saw that in the night something strange and green had grown up past his window. Hurrying to the lattice he opened it, and there he saw a great vine growing up from the ground. Some of his beans had taken root and sprung up wonderfully. The stalks grew of immense thickness and had so entwined that they formed a ladder. Looking upwards, he could not even see the top; it seemed to disappear in the clouds. He tried it, found it firm and not to shake.
Then a new idea struck him. This ladder, grown-up past his window so strangely, from the beans he had taken, must be meant for him to climb. Since he was now thoroughly sorry for his faults, he told himself that this chance was given him to make amends and climb up to some new opportunity. Doubtless, that ladder would lead him to the very spot where those tasks or adventures awaited him that should prove his new-found cleverness.
Full of this idea, Jack hastened to tell his mother. She would gladly have held him back, but she saw at last that the time had come when she must let him go forth to make his way in the world. At once, he set out. He climbed and climbed and climbed. He began to grow weary, but still, he climbed, and he climbed. He became very tired, indeed, but still, he climbed. So, at last, he reached the top and stepped off into a strange country. It seemed to be a rocky, barren place; not a tree, shrub, house or living creature, was to be seen anywhere. Jack sat himself down, thoughtfully on a block of stone to rest. He was very, very hungry, for he had had nothing to eat since noon of the day before, but still, Jack thought most of the hope that now, at last, he had reached the place where he should find his task.
Suddenly, as he was thinking, there appeared before him a strange little old lady. She wore a pointed cap of quilted red satin, turned up with ermine; her hair streamed loose over her shoulders, and in her hand, she carried a wand.
''Jack,'' she said as she drew near him, “I am a fairy. Your sorrow for your folly and idleness and your wish at last to perform some worthy task made your beans sprout and formed the ladder that brought you to me. Had you only looked at the gigantic Beanstalk and stupidly wondered about it, you would never have found me. But you showed an inquiring mind, great courage and enterprise, therefore you deserve to rise. It is my business to tell you what great things you have to do here. The story I am about to relate, your mother has never dared tell you. Lad though you are, the chance lies before you to do the deeds of a man."
Jack held his breath with interest and astonishment while the fairy continued: ''Your father was a rich man with a greatly generous nature. It was his practice to be kind to everyone around him. Not only those who asked his aid but all beside who needed anything. So good a man was he that he roused the anger of a huge giant who lived nearby. This creature was the embodiment of cruelty and wickedness, so of course, he could not bear to hear others talked of for their goodness. Hearing that your parents were about to pass a few days with a friend at some distance from home, he caused them to be waylaid, seized and bound hand and foot. Then he went forward, drove out your father's servants, and took possession of your castle. At the time all this happened, you were but a few months old, and, with your mother and father, the giant casted you into the deepest dungeon of the castle. There you all three lay for months, but at last, the giant offered to restore you and your mother to liberty on condition that she would solemnly swear never to tell anyone the story of her wrongs. To put it out of her power to do him any harm, the giant had her placed on shipboard with you in her arms and taken to a distant country. There she was left with no more money for her support than what she got by selling a few jewels she had hidden in her dress. Now the giant lives in this country and still keeps your father prisoner in the castle. You are the person who must set him free and restore to him his goods. All that the giant has is yours. Regain what you can. You will meet with dangers and difficulties, but you must have the courage and stick to your task.
Moreover, you must do nothing rashly, but use wisdom at all times. Remember Right and Justice are with you and before these, Wickedness cannot stand. If you go forward fearlessly, sure in this knowledge, then you will be one of those who conquer giants.”
As soon as she had made an end, the Fairy disappeared, leaving Jack, much aroused by what she had said, to follow his journey. It was no easy task that lay before him. He walked on and on and on, but still, he came to no dwelling. At length, as night came on, he lay down beneath the shelter of a rock and fell asleep. In the morning to his great joy, he saw not far away from the large house for which he was looking. Now very much in need of food, he made his way slowly to the door, lifted the knocker and rapped. A huge woman opened the door for him, with a face that seemed none too kindly, and she stood listening in great astonishment while he begged her for a bite to eat.
“It was most uncommon”, she said roughly, “to see any strange creature near their house”, for it was well known that her husband was a cruel and ugly giant who bullied all who came near him.
''If you know what is good for you,'* she went on, ''you will run away at once as fast as your legs will carry you.”
In spite of his hunger and needs, Jack's first thought was to follow her words and run away as fast as he could. Then he remembered what the Fairy had said, and the reason for his being there. So he bravely stood his ground, and asked again for food, offering in return to do any kind of work. At this, the woman considered a moment. She drudged, toiled and laboured from morning till night and she was much in need of someone to help her. So, at last, she let herself be persuaded and led Master Jack inside the house. First, they passed an elegant hall, finely furnished; then they went through several spacious rooms, all in the same style of grandeur, but lonely-looking and dreary. A long gallery came next; it was very dark, just light enough to show that, instead of a wall on either side, there was a grating of iron which parted off a dismal dungeon, whence Jack could hear sighs and the clanking of chains.
His heartbeat was fast as he thought that here perhaps his father was confined and he grew more than ever determined to stick to his task until he set him free. The woman took Jack into a large kitchen where a great fire was kept. There she bade him sit down and gave him plenty to eat and drink. Now he saw that after all, she was a kindly woman, only much overworked and worried by the bullying of the giant. When he had done his meal, she set him to work scrubbing and burnishing. All-day long, he worked harder and more steadily than he had ever done in all his life before, and she fed him well.
At length evening came, then there was suddenly a great knocking at the gate that caused the whole house to shake. *'Let me in! Let me in roared a blustering voice. The giant's wife hid Jack in the oven; then she ran to let her husband in. Soon he came striding into the room, an ugly creature enough, with little pig eyes and the face of a bully. The moment he crossed the threshold, he began to sniff about and shout: 'Tee Fi Fo Fum, Methinks I smell an Englishman!'' Jack crouched further down in a corner of the oven, but he called to mind that the Fairy had said Right was with him, and if he stood fearlessly by that fact, he should be one of those who conquered giants. So he found his courage again and quietly waited. The woman meantime had answered her husband gruffly, “You'll go on smelling Englishmen as long as you keep them in the dungeon.”
''Humph!" grunted the giant and seated himself by the fire while the wife prepared supper. Through a crevice in the oven, Jack continued to look on. He was much surprised to see what a fantastic quantity the giant devoured, and supposed he would never have done eating and drinking. After his supper, a very curious hen was placed on the table before him. Jack's curiosity was great to see what would happen. He saw that the hen stood quiet before the giant, and every time he said ''Lay!'* she laid an egg of solid gold. The giant amused himself with her for a long time, while his wife went to bed. But at length, he fell asleep in his chair and snored like the roaring of a cannon. Knowing it was his business to recover the hen. Jack crept softly from his hiding place, seized her and ran off with her as fast as his legs would carry him. The hen began to cackle which woke the giant, and just as Jack got out of the house he heard him calling: ''Wife, wife, what have you done with my golden hen?" That was all Jack heard, before he hurried back to the beanstalk and climbed down like a streak of lightning. His mother was overjoyed to see him. "Now mother," said Jack, "I have brought you home that which will meet all our needs." The hen laid as many golden eggs as he desired. Jack sold them and soon had as much money as they two needed. For a short time, Jack and his mother lived very happily, but the lad never left off thinking of his father. So early one morning he again climbed the beanstalk and reached the giant's mansion in the evening. The woman came and answered his knock as before. Jack, at once begged her to give him a night's lodging. At first, she began to scold him roundly for having taken her husband's hen on his previous visit, but by this time Jack felt assured that she was a kindly woman and he had no need to fear her. Moreover, in her heart, she knew the giant had no right to the treasures he had stolen, so at last, she admitted the lad and gave him some supper.
After his meal, Jack repaid her by working faithfully until they heard the giant's knock at the gate. This time the woman hid the boy in the lumber closet. Soon after the giant came blustering in and began to sniff, sniff, sniff about. “Tee Fi Fo Fum, Methinks I smell an Englishman!” he roared, but his wife once more reminded him that he had an Englishman in his dungeon, so the giant sat down and ate his supper. Then he ordered his wife to bring down his bags of gold and silver. Jack peeped out from his hiding place and watched him count over the treasure, which he had stolen from the lad's father.
At last the giant put everything back in the bags again, dropped his chin on his chest and fell asleep. Jack crept very, very quietly from the closet and approached the table. All at once, a little dog under the giant's chair began to bark furiously. The giant sleepily opened one eye; Jack seized the bags and ran! So he reached the beanstalk in safety and was soon back again in his room. If his mother was glad to see him before, she was twice glad to have him safely returned this time, and they found themselves now very well off indeed.
Still, all this wealth and comfort at home did not make Jack wish to remain there at ease and leave his father to shut up in the dungeon. On the longest day of the year, he arose as soon as it was light and climbed the beanstalk. He arrived at the giant's house in the evening and found his wife standing at the door. This time her manner was rougher than ever. Her husband had been very hard on her after the disappearance of the treasure. It was difficult indeed to persuade her to admit him.
But at last, he prevailed and was allowed to go into work and eat his supper as usual. When the giant came home, Jack was hiding in the copper kettle. The great bully was as ugly as ever, and began once more to roar: “Tee Fi Fo Fum, Methinks I smell an Englishman!" Then, notwithstanding all his wife could say, he searched in every nook and corner of the room. While this was going on, Jack held his breath. The giant approached the copper kettle and put his hand squarely on the lid. Jack thought he must surely be discovered, but no! The search ended here, and the bully sat quietly down by the fireside.
When supper was over, the giant commanded his wife to fetch him his harp. Jack peeped from under the copper lid and soon saw the giantess bring in the instrument. It was carved of gold and on the front was the figure of a beautiful woman with wings. Her robes flowed to the floor and ended in the form of a stand like a traditional harp. The giant put the harp on the table and when he said “Play!” it instantly played of its own accord. The music was so soft and melodious that Jack was filled with delight and felt very anxious to recover so great a treasure. But the giant's soul could find no pleasure in such harmony, so instead of listening to the music, he soon fell soundly asleep. Jack, at once climbed out of the copper kettle and seized the harp. He had no sooner done so, however, than it began to cry out, ''Master! Master!"
Jack thought this must surely awaken the giant, so he started to run away as before.
''Master! Master!'' still cried the Harp.
The lad was almost ready to drop it, when he suddenly felt that it was turning in his arms as if alive, directing itself by its wings, and pulling him along with it. Not toward the outer door did it go, but back, back into the house, toward the dungeons.
it kept repeating, and soon it dragged Jack to the very spot where he knew his father must be imprisoned.
it twanged louder than ever, and lo there came to the grating of one of the dungeons a white-haired old man in chains. "My harp! My Harp!" he cried. "Who bears you, hither?" Jack answered at once, "Thy son!"
"My son!" repeated the man with tears of joy. "My son!" As he spoke, he stretched his arms through the grating, and the Harp flew immediately into them.
'Harp! Harp! Play off my chains!'' he commanded. Such music as the Harp then played! The chains fell away from the old man's feet.
''Harp! Harp! Play open my dungeon door!"
The Harp played again. Then the heavy door swung open, Jack's father passed through, and the two hurried down the gallery. But by this time there was a great commotion from the kitchen. The giant was now thoroughly awake and roaring for his harp. As Jack and his father ran out the great gate of the Castle, the giant was hot on their heels. They ran, and they ran! Behind them, the giant roared in a voice of thunder. Often he almost had them, but they clung to the Harp, and it helped them on with its wings.
At last, they came to the beanstalk. Jack and his father climbed quickly down. No sooner had they reached the bottom, than the giant appeared, shaking his fists at the top of the ladder above. Down, down he came, snorting and raging, but Jack called loudly for a hatchet, and when he was almost upon them, he laid his hatchet to the root of the beanstalk. No sooner had he done so, than of a sudden, the whole beanstalk shrivelled up and the giant burst like a monstrous bubble. Then Jack and his mother and father fell into each other's arms and rejoiced to be once more together.
As for the giant's wife, in the land beyond the beanstalk, she, without doubt, was glad to be freed from such wickedness and cruelty.