As far back as Cow could remember she lived on the farm in the valley that separated two hills with the little family of people that looked after her. Most of that life she spent on the pasture eating grasses with the other cattle that the people tended. These other bovines were different than her. The people never took their milk as they did hers. The people liked her milk so much that every day they milked her.
The people were a man, a woman and two children – a boy named Jack and a girl named Jill. Jack and Jill were not around from the beginning. Cow recalled that there were no children way back when but one spring day the rooster had somebody to compete with in being the loudest on the farm. That was the day that Jack arrived and boy could that boy wail! The following spring Jill showed up. She was quiet and different from Jack.
Life was good watching the two children growing up. Jack was always a trouble-maker. He would find more ways to disturb the apple cart and every other cart and wagon on the farm than a person could shake a stick at and quite often Jack’s parents would shake sticks at him for being so impish.
Jill on the other hand was an angel. She helped her parents with all the chores around the house. It had become her chief duty to milk Cow every day. Cow enjoyed feeling Jill’s soft and tiny hands gently work her udders. Cow did everything that she could to make sure that Jill’s pail was always full.
As the years went by Jack and Jill had grown in size until now they were more than half as tall as their parents. The years were good except Cow did notice that with every passing season there were fewer and fewer cattle in the field with her. It meant more grass for her to eat yet she missed their company.
Finally came a year where she was the only one out there in the pasture. And even though she did not have to share the field with anybody, she found that there was not as much grass and the grass that was there was brown and hardly tasted good at all. This had something to do with the lack of rainfall. More than once did Cow hear the word ‘drought’ being uttered by the farmer.
With the disappearance of the other cattle the farmer had no choice but to put Cow to work. The other cattle used to pull the plow and the carts. Now, it was left up to Cow to do all this and although she wanted to be helpful she was not very good at these chores and the farmer often scolded her. His normal happy disposition had gradually soured with the passing years and the drought. Cow did not feel very good about this and her worries showed when Jill sat down to milk her. She could barely give half a pail and every day it seemed like she was giving less and less.
But life went on. All the good days were in the past and now there were only miserable days left. If it hadn’t been for Jill Cow would have been very lonely. She tried to cheer her up and this made Cow feel good. Jill was a friend and Cow hoped that she would be her friend for life.
One night, the parents were out visiting a neighboring farm over the hill in the next valley over. Jack and Jill were in the barn along with Cow. Jill had just finished milking her and all that Cow could produce could barely cover the bottom of the metal pail. While Cow mooed her apology to Jill, Jack had found some candles and wooden matches. Jill warned her brother that they were not supposed to be playing with these but Jack ignored her. He was older and he knew what he was doing.
Jack lit the candles and placed them on top of a small wooden box that sat on the barn’s floor. Nearby was stacked some hay that the farmer had piled for Cow to eat during the winter that was coming up real soon. The lit candles were very pretty and they made the inside of the barn feel like a charming place.
Jack soon devised a game for him to play and that was jumping over the box and the lit candles. Jack was nimble. Jack was quick. Jack had jumped over the candlestick. He did this twice and barely cleared the top of the little flame each time. He decided that he would do it one more time. This time he was a bit more tired than before. When he jumped over the candle, his foot knocked the candle over and it fell into the stack of hay.
Before Jack and Jill knew it, the hay caught fire. Great flames were soon engulfing the hay. A very worried Jill led Cow out of the barn and then she returned to help her brother put out the flames. They tried beating it with their coats but all that this did was fan the flames more and they grew even higher. They needed water.
The only place to get water was from the spring at the top of the hill. The farm’s well that was near to the house had run dry months earlier. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. They each scooped as much as they could in their pails but on the way back, Jack fell down and as he did so he tripped his sister and Jill came tumbling after.
Cow had seen all this and she worried for the safety of the two children. But what worried Cow more was the barn, her home. It was burning down fast. She knew that the children would never be able to save it. She wished that there was something that she could have done but she was a cow and cows are not very handy.
On that cold evening the barn burned down. When the parents returned from their visit they saw what had happened and they were very distressed. The barn was gone. All the hay that Cow was supposed to eat that winter was gone.
When asked how this happened, Jack did not tell his parents the truth. He blamed Cow for the accident saying that the stupid beast had gone into a rant because Jill was milking her too hard and Cow knocked over the candle.
“Why was there a lit candle in the first place?” Jack’s father asked. Jack said he didn’t know. Maybe his father had forgotten to put it out from the night before?
“With no barn and no hay, we can no longer keep Cow,” Jack’s father said. “I think it is time for her to go to market. I am very busy tomorrow and do not have time to do this. Jack, I want you to take her to market and try to get the best offer you can on her.”
Cow listened very sadly as the farmer told his son what to do. She could understand what people said but she could never speak back to them. She was a cow and cows do not possess good vocabularies. When she heard that word ‘market’ it put a shudder in her udder. That was the word that the farmer used every time one of the cattle that used to live here disappeared. She did not know exactly what it meant but it did have a very onerous quality to it.
When Jill heard her father’s intention regarding Cow she cried and pled with him to reconsider. There was still plenty of grass out on the pasture and that should be enough to sustain Cow. She even said that during the winter she would clear the field to make sure that Cow could get something to eat.
“Cow’s no good to us now, honey,” the father answered. “She is dried up and she hardly gives us any milk at all. Her time has come. In the spring we will get a new cow – one that is brimming with milk and you will forget all about this one.”
Poor Jill was heart-broken and she sat with Cow in the yard all night long – petting and grooming her and recollecting about all the good times that they had together. She promised Cow that she was not going to say goodbye to her.
The next day Jack was sent off with Cow to the market. Jill was not there to say good bye. She had cried so much overnight that she did not have any energy left. Cow wished that her little friend was there. She was very concerned about Jill. She was so concerned that she did not even think about the trip ahead with Jack to the market.
They went up the hill where Cow paused for a moment to take a look back at the little farm that had been her home her entire life. It seemed so small now from the top of the hill but it was everything that she ever desired in life. In the sunshine, she still hoped to see the little girl waving her hand back and forth to say goodbye. How she wished that she did not have to say goodbye to Jill! She was going to miss her. But Jill was not there.
Jack and Cow walked for several hours down a dusty trail that seemed to be heading nowhere. Jack hardly paid her any attention as he skipped along the road, finding stones that he would throw at birds in the tree. There was something very mean about this little boy. Despite his antics, Cow still loved Jack. He was family after all.
Then the boy and the milking cow saw somebody approaching from the distance. As the stranger drew near, Cow saw that this fellow was most peculiar. Although he looked something like what people look like he was not quite the same. He was shorter, broader, and rounder. Even from far away Cow had seen the twinkle in his eyes. It was the kind of twinkle that spoke volumes about the trouble the stranger could create. If Cow were able to speak she would have warned Jack to be very careful.
“What do we have here?” the stranger said once they were close enough. “A milking cow?” He licked his lips. His tongue was fat and wide. “How I would love to have some milk!”
“You are not going to get any from this one,” Jack said. “She’s all dried up and that is why I am taking her to market.”
The stranger looked at Cow’s udder. “Oh, there is plenty of milk there!” he cried. “Come on, let a thirsty traveler have a drink!”
Jack did not have a chance to say anything before the stranger had stooped down and squeezed Cow’s udder. Never before had Cow felt such strength in a hand. She wanted to moo out in pain, the stranger squeezed so hard. She felt her leg grow warm and wet. The stranger had managed to produce a geyser out of her. He caught some of the spraying milk with his cupped hand. He took a drink. “My, my is that tasty!” he cried out with pleasure. “You say you are taking this cow to market?”
The little boy said yes.
“Tell you what I am going to do, my little man! I am going to offer you something that comes to a person once in a lifetime for that cow!” the stranger said. He was fumbling in his pockets as Jack watched in earnest. Cow watched too, wondering what was going to come out of it.
When the hand came out of the pocket whatever it contained was concealed between the stubby fingers. “A boy like you must have heard of magic before, have you?”
“Of course!” Jack said. “What little boy hasn’t?”
“Well, what I have got here is magic beans!” The stranger opened his hand and revealed to the boy and the cow the most meager pathetic pale, sickly, discolored beans that anybody could ever set their eyes upon. “I am going to give you these beans in exchange for that cow. I know what you are saying. You are saying that I must be mad for trading such a treasure for such a dried-out beast like that but I tell you that you caught me on a good day and I will pay anything to never have to worry about getting my milk again!”
At first, Jack seemed to think that the stranger had gone off his rocker. There was no way that he was going to trade Cow for some measly beans even if they were supposed to be magical. His father would kill him!
But the stranger was a coercive one and had the gift of talk. He kept a constant pressure on Jack and eventually won him over. Cow could not believe what she was witnessing but in the end the stranger had Jack thinking that he had made the bargain of the century.
The stranger gave Jack the beans and Jack gave the stranger the rope that was tied around Cow’s neck. They had made the exchange. Jack turned around and started prancing home. He seemed glad that he did not have to travel all the way to the market after all.
Cow and the stranger watched Jack disappear in the distance before they started out. The stranger had not said anything to Cow at all. But once Jack was gone from sight, the stranger took off his gloves to show small delicate hands underneath and then he began to take off the big dusty coat from his back.
Cow was astonished to see that underneath that coat was a collection of straw and pillows. These fell to the road revealing some clothing that Cow thought seemed familiar.
Then the stranger took off his hat. There was far more to the hat than just a lid. The stranger’s entire head was taken off. Underneath it was another head – the head of a little girl – a little girl that Cow knew. It was Jill! Once Cow saw who the stranger was she began mooing like there was no tomorrow, she was so happy.
“You are not going to market, Cow!” Jill said. “You and I are going to run away for a while and find some place where we can be happy for the rest of our lives.”
This remark concerned Cow. Although she loved Jill and wanted her to be happy for the rest of her life, right now she was still just a little girl and unable to look after herself.
Jill seemed to know what Cow was thinking. “Don’t you worry Cow! We will be all right and Jack and my parents are going to be all right too! I really did give Jack some magic beans. Those beans are going to create a beanstalk so tall that Jack is going to be able to pluck treasure from the sky. You just wait and see!”
The little girl paused for a moment and then said, “I see from your eyes that you are not entirely convinced about what I say. I don’t blame you but believe me what I say is true . Remember a long time ago when the last of the cattle left our farm to go to market? I went with my father on that trip. That was a sad day until at the market I met this woman who saw how unhappy I was. When I told her why I was so sad she gave me the beans and told me that if I wait until another sad day and make a wish upon them then everything that I wished for would come true . Well today, is that sad day and I believe her. You still don’t believe me, do you? Let’s just wait a few days and you’ll see! We’ll go to our favorite place and we can watch it all unfold and then we will go home.”
Reluctantly Cow agreed and followed the little girl along the back road until they reached Cow’s pasture. There, they spent the night, looking down the hill to their farm.
The next morning when they awoke, true to Jill’s prediction, there was a beanstalk that climbed straight up into the clouds. Never before had Cow seen such a plant. It made all the trees in the valley seem no taller than blades of grass.
It was amazing but it was now time to go home. The family would be worried about Jill. Jill said, “Not yet,” when Cow started to walk down the hill. “There is more to unfold.”
They spent the day watching the farm. They saw Jack scurry up the beanstalk and disappear in the clouds. A few hours later they saw Jack racing down the beanstalk, in his hand clutching some golden foul. When Jack reached the ground again, he started chopping down the beanstalk. When it tumbled, much to Cow’s surprise he saw a giant ogre crash down along with it. As the giant fell, coins spilled like rain from the heavens. Cow’s pasture was sparkling in silver and gold. There would never be a worry about money again in this family.
Jill started picking up the coins. She was brimming with laughter. “Now, it’s time to go home.”
Cow followed her friend down the hill to their home where they would live happily ever after.