(a French folktale)
Once upon a time, Henri, a poor farmer, was carrying his wares to market. He was grumbling as he walked, for he was tired of his misfortunes.
As he happened past a beggar, the man called out, “I hear you complain, but what makes you so unhappy?”
Henri stopped and looked at the strange man in tattered clothes. “My wife and I are almost starving,” he said. “I work day and night, and I pray, but the good Lord must be too high up to hear my prayers.”
The beggar stood, reached into his pocket and pulled out a bean. “Take this,” he said. “Plant it in your fields, and I promise you it will grow tall enough to carry you to heaven.” He slipped the bean into Henri’s hand.
Henri was just about to laugh, when to his astonishment, the beggar vanished.
What could he do? Naturally, when Henri returned home, he planted the bean, just as the beggar had told him. And to his amazement, the moment it was in the ground, it grew to be a shoot — 1 inch high.
“Impossible,” Henri muttered to himself, and he did not dare dream. The next morning when he walked outside, he saw the plant had grown 10 feet high. By the next morning, it was even higher. By the third morning, he could no longer see the top.
He began to think about that old beggar’s words. “Well, it can’t hurt to try to climb,” Henri said, and so he began to climb, using the stems that were as thick as tree branches as steps. Up and up he climbed.
Henri climbed for several hours until at last he reached a field thick with flowers — the scent of lilies, lilacs, gardenias, magnolias and jasmine filled his lungs. In the center of the field of flowers he saw a path, and so he climbed down from the stalk and followed the path.
He walked for an hour until at last he came to a magnificent mansion. He understood that this must be the home of the Lord.
Henri knocked on the door, and a man in magnificent robes appeared. “Oh my! What are you doing here, Henri?” he asked.
“I have come to speak to you, Lord,” Henri said quietly. “I have prayed for a house on a hill and a little bit of savings to help me through the hard times, but you have never answered my prayers.”
“That’s all?” the man in robes asked. “Very well, your wish is granted. Go back home and see.”
Henri hurried back down the path to his stalk, and he climbed down as quickly as he could back to Earth. There he found his wife, Colette, happier than he had ever seen her, dancing and rejoicing before a pretty little house on a hill.
“I found a sack of gold on the table inside and four chickens in the yard,” she told Henri. He smiled, grateful that at long last his prayers had been answered.
For the next few days, life was perfectly happy at home. But on the seventh morning, Colette woke up and said, “I’d like a bigger house. Wouldn’t you? Climb the beanstalk and ask for one.”
Henri was hesitant, but Colette insisted, so he climbed back up to the mansion in heaven.
When the man in robes answered his knock, Henri said, “Pardon, my Lord, but my wife was wondering if we might have a bigger house and perhaps a bit more of a fortune? And a few servants?”
“If that is your wish, you shall have it,” said the Lord. “Now go back home.”
Once again, Henri hurried home, and this time he was amazed to see a castle guarded by servants and his wife dressed in silk, with diamonds glittering on her fingers.
“This is all very well,” Colette said, “but honestly, I would like to be a queen, Henri. Please go ask the Lord for that.”
Henri shook his head. “I couldn’t ask for such a thing,” he protested, but Colette would not stop asking him. So at long last, he climbed the stalk once more and went to see the Lord.
“Colette wishes to be a queen,” Henri practically whispered.
“What?” the Lord asked, surprised and slightly irritated. Still, he granted Henri’s request.
When Henri returned home, he saw his wife surrounded by a sea of guards and a crown upon her head. A line of foreign ministers stood outside the castle walls, waiting for a visit with the queen.
“Are you happy now?” Henri asked his wife, now the queen.
“No, I think I’d rather be the Lord,” Colette said. “Please climb the beanstalk again.”
Henri was mortified, but she kept asking him until he could do nothing but agree to her request. This time when he appeared before the Lord, he looked down at his feet and said, “Colette asks to be the Lord.”
When the Lord heard this, he exploded. “You are mad!” he said, and a moment later Henri was hurtling through the air, falling to Earth.
He landed on the hill where once his house and castle had stood. Now there was only his old hut and Colette in her tattered clothes.
“What happened, Henri?” she asked, and just at that moment, a bolt of lightning struck and knocked the beanstalk to the ground.
And with that, Henri and Colette were left with what little they’d had in the beginning.