Once upon a time there lived a kind widow in a country cottage outside a small village. The widow was devoted to her only son, named Jack. She was very poor, for times had been hard, and Jack was too young to work. Almost all the furniture of the little cottage had been sold to buy bread, until at last there was nothing left worth selling. Only the cow remained, and she gave milk every morning, which they took to market in the nearby village and sold. But one sad day the cow could give milk no longer, and then things looked bad indeed.
“Never mind, mother,” said Jack. “We must sell the cow. Trust me to make a good bargain.” and he took the cow away and went walking to the market.
For some time he went along sadly, for he would miss the cow – but after a while he began to recover his spirits, and went whistling along until he met a strange man. Jack knew everyone in the village and surrounding area, but he had never seen this man before.
“Good morning,” said the man, in a strange accent that sounded like he must be from far away.
“Good morning, sir,” answered Jack.
“May I ask where you are going?” said the man.
“I am going to market to sell the cow.”
“It is lucky you met me,” said the stranger. “You may save yourself the trouble of going so far.”
With this, he put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out five curious-looking beans. “Can you guess what these might be?” he asked.
“They look like beans, sir” said Jack.
“Yes,” said the man, “but not ordinary beans. They are the most wonderful beans that ever were known. I purchased these beans at great cost from a wizard in a far-away land. If you plant them overnight, by the next morning they’ll grow up and reach the sky. But I am always traveling and cannot take time to plant them, and at the moment I am in dire need of an animal to haul my cart. So, although these magic beans are worth a great deal more, I am willing to exchange them for that cow of yours.”
“Deal!” cried Jack, who was so delighted with the bargain that he ran all the way home to tell his mother how lucky he had been.
But oh! How disappointed the poor widow was.
“Oh Jack!” she cried, “You were tricked and cheated by that evil man. We have lost the cow and gained nothing in return but five worthless old beans.” She was so upset that she threw the beans out of the window into the garden.
Poor Jack ran off to bed without having dinner, and cried himself to sleep.