ALL alone, in a quiet little village, lived a poor old woman. One day she had a dish of beans which she wanted to cook for dinner, so she made a fire on the hearth, and in order that it should burn up quickly she lighted it with a handful of straw.
She hung the pot over the fire, and poured in the beans; but one fell on to the floor without her noticing it, and rolled away beside a piece of straw. Soon afterwards a live coal flew out of the fire and joined their company. Then the straw began to speak.
“Dear friends,” said he, “whence come you?”
“I was fortunate enough to spring out of the fire,” answered the coal. “Had I not exerted myself to get out when I did, I should most certainly have been burnt to ashes.”
“I have also just managed to save my skin,” said the bean. “Had the old woman succeeded in putting me into the pot, I should have been stewed without mercy, just as my comrades are being served now.”
“My fate might have been no better,” the straw told them. “The old woman burnt sixty of my brothers at once, but fortunately I was able to slip through her fingers.”
“What shall we do now?” said the coal.
“Well,” answered the bean, “my opinion is that, as we have all been so fortunate as to escape death, we should leave this place before any new misfortune overtakes us. Let us all three become traveling companions and set out upon a journey to some unknown country.”
This suggestion pleased both the straw and the coal, so away they all went at once. Before long they came to a brook, and as there was no bridge across it they did not know how to get to the other side; but the straw had a good idea: “I will lay myself over the water, and you can walk across me as though I were a bridge,” he said. So he stretched himself from one bank to the other, and the coal, who was of a hasty disposition, at once tripped gaily on to the newly-built bridge. Half way across she hesitated, and began to feel afraid of the rushing water beneath her. She dared go no farther, but neither would she return; but she stood there so long that the straw caught fire, broke in two, and fell into the stream. Of course, the coal was bound to follow. No sooner did she touch the water than—hiss, zish! out she went, and never glowed again.
The bean, who was a careful fellow, had stayed on the bank, to watch how the coal got across, before trusting himself to such a slender bridge. But when he saw what very queer figures his friends cut, he could not help laughing. He laughed and laughed till he could not stop, and at length he split his side.
It would have gone badly with him then, had not a tailor happened to pass by. He was a kind-hearted fellow, and at once took out his needle and thread and began to repair the mischief.
The bean thanked him politely, for he knew that the tailor had saved his life, but unfortunately he had used black thread, and from that time till to-day every bean has a little black stitch in its side.