"If you please, ma'am," said he, "is this your house?"
"No," said the old lady. "Listen, and I will tell you the story of that castle."
"Once upon a time there was a noble knight, who lived in this castle, which is on the borders of Fairyland. He had a fair and beloved wife and several lovely children; and as his neighbors, the little people, were very friendly toward him, they bestowed on him many excellent and precious gifts.
"Rumor whispered of these treasures; and a monstrous giant who lived at a great distance, and who was a very wicked being, resolved to obtain possession of them.
"So he bribed a false servant to let him inside the castle, when the knight was in bed and asleep, and he killed him as he lay. Then he went to the part of the castle which was the nursery, and also killed all the poor little ones he found there.
"Happily for her, the lady was not to be found. She had gone with her infant son, who was only two or three months old, to visit her old nurse, who lived in the valley; and she had been detained all night there by a storm.
"The next morning, as soon as it was light, one of the servants at the castle, who had managed to escape, came to tell the poor lady of the sad fate of her husband and her pretty babes. She could scarcely believe him at first, and was eager at once to go back and share the fate of her dear ones; but the old nurse, with many tears, besought her to remember that she had still a child, and that it was her duty to preserve her life for the sake of the poor innocent.
"The lady yielded to this reasoning, and consented to remain at her nurse's house as the best place of concealment; for the servant told her that the Giant had vowed, if he could find her, he would kill both her and her baby. Years rolled on. The old nurse died, leaving her cottage and the few articles of furniture it contained to her poor lady, who dwelt in it, working as a peasant for her daily bread. Her spinning-wheel and the milk of a cow which she had purchased with the little money she had with her, sufficed for the scanty subsistence of herself and her little son. There was a nice little garden attached to the cottage, in which they cultivated peas, beans, and cabbages, and the lady was not ashamed to go out at harvest time and glean in the fields to supply her little son's wants.
"Jack, that poor lady is your mother. This castle was once your father's, and must again be yours.
Jack uttered a cry of surprise.
"My mother! oh, madam, what ought I to do? My poor father! My dear mother!"
"Your duty requires you to win it back for your mother. But the task is a very difficult one, and full of peril, Jack. Have you courage to undertake it?" "I fear nothing when I am doing right," said Jack.
"Then," said the lady in the red cap, "you are one of those who slay giants. You must get into the castle, and if possible possess yourself of a hen that lays golden eggs, and a harp that talks. Remember, all the Giant possesses is really yours."
As she ceased speaking, the lady of the red hat suddenly disappeared, and of course Jack knew she was a fairy.
Jack determined at once to attempt the adventure; so he advanced, and blew the horn which hung at the castle portal. The door was opened in a minute or two by a frightful Giantess, with one great eye in the middle of her forehead.
As soon as Jack saw her he turned to run away, but she caught him, and dragged him into the castle.
"Ho, ho!" she laughed terribly. "You didn't expect to see me here, that is clear! No, I shan't let you go again. I am weary of my life.
I am so overworked, and I don't see why I should not have a page as well as other ladies. And you shall be my boy. You shall clean the knives, and black the boots, and make the fires, and help me generally when the Giant is out. When he is at home I must hide you, for he has eaten up all my pages hitherto, and you would be a dainty morsel, my little lad."
While she spoke she dragged Jack right into the castle. The poor boy was very much frightened, as I am sure you and I would have been in his place. But he remembered that fear disgraces a man; so he struggled to be brave and make the best of things. "I am quite ready to help you, and do all I can to serve you, madam," he said, "only I beg you will be good enough to hide me from your husband, for I should not like to be eaten at all."
"That's a good boy," said the Giantess, nodding her head; "it is lucky for you that you did not scream out when you saw me, as the other boys who have been here did, for if you had done so my husband would have awakened and have eaten you, as he did them, for breakfast. Come here, child; go into my wardrobe: he never ventures to open that; you will be safe there."
And she opened a huge wardrobe which stood in the great hall, and shut him unto it. But the keyhole was so large that it admitted plenty of air, and he could see everything that took place through it. By and by he heard a heavy tramp on the stairs, like the lumbering along of a great cannon, and then a voice like thunder cried out:
"Fe, fa, fi-fo-fum,
I smell the breath of an Englishman.
Let him be alive or let him be dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread."
"Wife," cried the Giant, "there is a man in the castle. Let me have him for breakfast."
"You are grown old and stupid," cried the lady, in her loud tones. "It is only a nice fresh steak off an elephant, that I have cooked for you, which you smell. There, sit down and make a good breakfast."
And she placed a huge dish before him of savory steaming meat, which greatly pleased him, and made him forget his idea of an Englishman being in the castle. When he had breakfasted he went out for a walk, and then the Giantess opened the door, and made Jack come out to help her. He helped her all day. She fed him well, and when evening came put him back in the wardrobe.
The Giant came in to supper. Jack watched him through the keyhole, and was amazed to see him pick a wolf's bone, and put half a fowl at a time into his capacious mouth.
When the supper was ended he bade his wife bring him his hen that laid the golden eggs.
"It lays as well as it did when it belonged to that paltry knight," he said; "indeed, I think the eggs are heavier than ever."
The Giantess went away, and soon returned with a little brown hen, which she placed on the table before her husband.
"And now, my dear," she said, "I am going for a walk, if you don't want me any longer."
"Go, said the Giant; "I shall be glad to have a nap by and by."
Then he took up the brown hen and said to her:
"Lay!" And she instantly laid a golden egg.
"Lay!" said the Giant again. And she laid another.
"Lay!" he repeated the third time. And again a golden egg lay on the table.
Now, Jack was sure this hen was that of which the fairy had spoken.
By and by the Giant put the hen down on the floor, and soon after went fast asleep, snoring so loud that it sounded like thunder.
Directly Jack perceived that the Giant was fast asleep, he pushed open the door of the wardrobe and crept out; very softly he stole across the room, and, picking up the hen, made haste to quit the apartment. he knew the way to the kitchen, the door of which he found was left ajar; he opened it, shut and locked it after him, and flew back to the Beanstalk, which he descended as fast as his feet would move.
When his mother saw him enter the house she wept for joy, for she had feared that the fairies had carried him away, or that the Giant had found him. But Jack put the brown hen down before her, and told her how he had been in the Giant's castle, and all his adventures. She was very glad to see the hen, which would make them rich once more.
Jack made another journey up the Beanstalk to the Giant's castle one day while his mother had gone to market; but first he dyed his hair and disguised himself. The old woman did not know him again, and dragged him in as she had done before, to help her to do the work; but she heard her husband coming, and hid him in the wardrobe, not thinking that it was the same boy who had stolen the hen. She bade him stay quite still there, or the Giant would eat him. Then the Giant came in, saying:
"Fe, fa, fi-fo-furn,
I smell the breath of an Englishman.
Let him he alive or let him be dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread."
"Nonsense!" said the wife, "it is only a roasted bullock that I thought would be a titbit for your supper; sit down and I will bring it up at once.
The Giant sat down, and soon his wife brought up a roasted bullock on a large dish, and they began their supper. Jack was amazed to see them pick the bones of the bullock as if it had been a lark. As soon as they had finished their meal, the Giantess rose and said: