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Nursery Tales Told to the Children by  Amy Steedman

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JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

[8] Once upon a time, in the days of long ago, there lived a poor widow who had an only son called Jack. She was a kind mother, but Jack was an idle boy who hated work and never did any if he could help it. So they grew poorer and poorer until at last all they had left was their old cow, Sukey, and she no longer gave them any milk.

"O Jack!" cried the widow, "how I wish you would find some work to do. We have no money left, and now I fear we must sell Sukey. This is market-day, so take her to town and see how much you can get for her."

Jack was very proud to be trusted, so he set off at once, leading the cow by the halter. But he had not gone far before he met a queer-looking old man with a sack on his back.

[9] "Good-morning, my lad," said the old fellow. "Where are you going to this fine day?"

"I am going to market to sell my cow," said Jack very grandly.

"If you are a smart lad and know how to drive a bargain, you need go no further," said the old man.

Then he put down his sack and felt in his pockets and brought out five strange-looking beans.

"Do you see these beans?" he said, holding them out in his hand; "you shall have them in exchange for the cow."

"Do you think I would sell my cow for a handful of common beans?" asked Jack scornfully.

"Ah! but they are not common beans," answered the old man, "they are magic ones, and if you plant them to-night they will grow as high as the sky by to-morrow morning."

"You don't say so," said Jack, his eyes growing round with wonder. "Why, then, I will certainly give you the cow for the magic beans."

[10] So the old man took the cow, and Jack ran home as fast as he could, rattling the beans merrily in his pocket.

"Mother, mother!" he cried when she came to the door to meet him, "see I have sold Sukey for these wonderful beans." And he showed her his handful with great pride.

"What!" said the widow. "You stupid, useless boy! Why did I ever trust you?"

And she snatched the beans out of Jack's hand and threw them out into the garden.

"Off to bed," she cried, "and no supper shall you have this night."

Then she sat down by the fireside, and throwing her apron over her head, she sobbed with grief and vexation.

Jack lay in bed upstairs, and he sobbed too. He was sorry he had vexed his mothers and he felt very hungry as well. But by-and-by he fell asleep, and slept till it was quite late next morning.

When he awoke, his little room looked so strange and shady, he could not think where [11] he was or what was the matter. Only one or two dancing sunbeams had struggled through the casement, and the window was blocked by a screen of cool, green leaves and pale, sweet-scented blossoms. He jumped up and tried to look out, but could see nothing, so he dressed quickly and ran downstairs and into the garden.

"Oh, oh, oh!" he cried in great surprise. For there, just outside the window where his mother had thrown the magic beans, there grew a mighty beanstalk, reaching towards the sky, so high that its top was hidden in the clouds.

Without waiting one moment Jack began to climb. Up and up and up he went, past tree-tops and clouds, higher and higher, until at last he reached the blue sky and stepped from the top of the beanstalk on to a long, straight, white road.

Now Jack began to feel very hungry, for he had had no supper the night before, so he ran along the road, hoping to come to a place where he might beg for some breakfast. He had not run far when, to [12] his joy, he came to a large castle, where a very large woman was standing at the door.

"Good-morning," said Jack, politely taking off his cap. "Will you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?"

"You had better run away as fast as you can, unless you want to be turned into a breakfast yourself," said the woman. "My husband is an Ogre, and his favourite breakfast is little boys fried on toast."

"Oh, please Mrs. Ogre, give me something to eat, and hide me, when your husband comes home," said Jack, for he felt too tired and hungry to go further.

The Ogre's wife was a very good-natured woman, so she took Jack in and gave him some bread and milk. But he had scarcely taken two mouthfuls when, thump, thump, thump, he heard the Ogre walking down the road.

The woman snatched Jack up and hid him in the oven, and at that very moment the Giant came in, roaring at the top of his voice:

[13]

"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he living, or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

"Nonsense," said his wife; "you are always smelling Englishmen and upsetting the whole house. Do sit down quietly and have your breakfast You see there is no one here."

So the Ogre sat down, grumbling still, and he was so cross that he had no appetite, and could only eat two boiled sheep and six yards of French roll. Then he ordered his wife to clear the table and bring out his bags of gold, and there he sat counting and counting his gold until he grew sleepy, and presently he began to snore so loudly that the people in the world below said to one another, "Dear me! what a dreadful thunderstorm!"

Then Jack softly opened the oven door and slipped quietly out. But as he passed the Ogre's chair he snatched up one of the bags of gold, and ran off with it along the [14] straight white road, as fast as his legs could carry him. As soon as he reached the top of the beanstalk he climbed down through the green leaves, down, down, down through the white fleecy clouds, swinging from leaf to leaf, till he reached his own little garden again.

"See what I have brought you from the top of the beanstalk!" he cried to his mother. And then he poured out all the gold on to the kitchen floor.

The poor widow was very glad to see her son again, and now there was money enough to buy all they needed. So as long as the gold lasted all went well.

But when the bag was nearly empty, Jack made up his mind to climb the beanstalk once more to see what he could find in the Ogre's castle. He did not tell his mother what he meant to do, but slipped out of the house very early one morning and climbed up the same way which he had gone before. Up and up and up he went till the clouds lay far below, and he reached the top of the beanstalk and stepped on to the straight white [15] road. Then he ran along until he came to the Ogre's castle.

Now as soon as the Ogre's wife saw him, she shouted to him to go away at once.

"My husband will eat you up, for he is still in a dreadful temper," she said. "That very day you were here a bag of gold was lost, and it cannot be found anywhere."

"Oh, please let me in and give me some breakfast," begged Jack.

And again the Ogre's wife allowed him to come in, and gave him some bread and honey.

But just as he was eating the last crust, thump, thump came the sound of the Ogre's feet tramping along the road. And the Ogre's wife had only time to hide Jack in the cupboard before the Ogre stalked in. He sniffed and he listened, and he sniffed again. Then in an awful voice he roared:

"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he living, or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

[16] "Oh, come, come," said his wife, "do not be so silly. You only smell the three oxen that I have roasted for your breakfast."

So the Ogre sat down and began to eat, but every few minutes he paused with a mouthful of roast ox, and sniffed suspiciously round. But his wife only laughed at him, so he finished his breakfast in sulky silence.

"Wife, wife!" he shouted, when he was done, "bring me my golden hen."

Then his wife brought a beautiful little speckled hen and placed it on the table.

"Lay!" roared the Ogre.

And the hen laid an egg of pure gold. And each time the Ogre said "Lay," she laid another.

Then the Ogre began to grow sleepy, and he yawned so loudly that the people in the world below said, "There is an earthquake going on somewhere."

But when he was asleep, out stole Jack, and creeping nimbly round the table, he seized the golden hen, tucked her under his arm, and ran out of the door.

"Squaak, squaak," screamed the hen. [17] And up jumped the Ogre in a great hurry. But he was only in time to see Jack disappear at the end of the straight white road.

You may be sure that Jack did not waste much time climbing down the beanstalk. Down, down, down he swung until he reached the bottom, when he burst into the kitchen hot and panting and placed the hen on the table.

"Mother," he cried, "see what I have brought you from the magic beanstalk!"

Then he said softly, "Lay, little hen," and the hen at once laid a shining golden egg.

Jack's mother was so surprised and delighted that she could scarcely believe her eyes.

"I shall never call you idle and stupid again," she said, looking at Jack with great pride.

Now there was no longer any need to climb the magic beanstalk, but each day Jack longed for fresh adventures. The moment he woke in the morning, when the scent of the blossoms was wafted into his [18] room, he could think of nothing else but the magic beanstalk and the Ogre's castle at the end of the straight white road.

So at last, early one morning, he slipped away and began to climb up once more. The higher he climbed the happier he felt, and when the white clouds swept past him, he shouted for joy. But when he reached the top and ran along the road to the Ogre's castle, he did not dare show himself, but waited near the kitchen door until he saw the Ogre's wife go out to fetch water. Then he crept into the kitchen and hid himself in the boiler.

Very soon the floor began to shake under the tramp, tramp of the Ogre's tread, and in he came with his wife. This time they both sniffed the air and said together:

"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he living, or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make my bread."

And then they ran to the oven and the [19] cupboard to see if Jack was hiding there. But luckily he was safe in the boiler, and though they looked under the dish covers and behind the clock and everywhere they could think of, they could not find him.

"It cannot be a fresh little boy, after all," said the Ogre's wife. "It must just be the bones of those little boys you had on toast last night for dessert."

So the Ogre sat down and began his breakfast, and when he was done he stretched himself out before the fire for his morning doze.

"Wife," he cried, "fetch me my magic harp, for I think it would soothe me to sleep."

Then the Ogre's wife brought out a little golden harp and placed it on the table.

It was the most wonderful harp that ever was made, for it was really an exquisite little fairy, stretched upon a golden frame, so that her shining hair made the harp-strings. And when the wind played through the living chords the fairy notes came quivering out, and the harp fairy sang a magic song to suit the music.

[20] "Play," roared the Giant; and immediately the fairy music began and the Spirit of the harp sang until the air quivered with the golden notes.

Then, as the Ogre fell asleep and began to snore, the music died away, and Jack crept out of the boiler. He seized the harp with both hands and ran softly towards the door.

But he had forgotten that the harp was really a fairy, and when he seized her she cried in her loudest voice, "Master, master!"

Up sprang the Ogre in the twinkling of an eye, and gave a frightful roar when he saw Jack dart out of the door and run off along the straight white road.

Jack had never run so fast in all his life as he did then, but the Ogre ran faster still. He thundered along, getting closer at every step, and had just stretched out his hand to seize the thief when Jack reached the top of the beanstalk and began climbing swiftly down.

The Ogre stopped for a moment, for he was not sure if this strange tree would bear his weight

[21] "Master, master!" cried the harp, and that made the Ogre so furious that he began to climb down after Jack as quick as he could.


[Illustration]

"Master, master," cried the harp

The beanstalk swayed and creaked, and Jack, in terror, went faster and faster, until he reached the bottom, and then he saw the Ogre's great feet just above his head.

"Mother, mother, an axe!" shouted Jack, and he seized it from her hands and began to chop at the beanstalk with all his might.

It swayed, it creaked, and crash it fell with a tremendous thud, and the Ogre lay buried beneath the ruins.

Then Jack danced for joy and the fairy harp played soft music. And now that the beanstalk was gone he lived contentedly at home with his mother, and the golden hen, and the fairy harp, which brought them more riches than they knew how to spend.


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