5.THE STRAW, THE COAL, AND THE BEAN
In a village lived a poor old woman, who had gathered together a dish of beans and wanted to cook them. So she made a fire on her hearth, and so that it would burn quicker, she lighted it with a handful of straw. When she was emptying the beans into the pan, one dropped without her noticing it, and lay on the ground beside a straw, and soon afterwards a burning coal from the fire leapt down to the two. Then the straw began and said, ‘Dear friends, where do you come from?’ The coal replied: ‘I fortunately sprang out of the fire, and if I had not escaped, my death would have been certain,—I should have been burnt to ashes.’ The bean said: ‘I too have escaped with a whole skin, but if the old woman had got me into the pan, I should have been made into broth without any mercy, like my comrades.’ ‘And would I have been better?’ said the straw. ‘The old woman has destroyed all my brethren in fire and smoke. She seized sixty of them at once, and took their lives. I luckily slipped through her fingers.’
‘But what are we to do now?’ said the coal.
‘I think,’ answered the bean, ‘that as we have so fortunately escaped death, we should keep together like good companions, and in case a new misfortune should overtake us here, we should go away together, and flee to a foreign country.’
The idea pleased the two others, and they set out on their way together. Soon, however, they came to a little stream, and as there was no bridge or foot-plank, they did not know how they were to get over it. The straw hit on a good idea, and said. ‘I will lay myself straight across, and then you can walk over on me as on a bridge.’ The straw therefore stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal walked quite boldly on to the newly-built bridge. But when she had reached the middle, and heard the water rushing beneath her, she was after all, afraid, and stood still, and would go no farther. The straw, however, began to burn, broke in two pieces, and fell into the stream. The coal slipped after her, hissed when she got into the water, and breathed her last. The bean, who had wisely stayed behind on the shore, could not but laugh at the event, was unable to stop, and laughed so heartily that she burst. It would have been all over with her, likewise, if, by good fortune, a tailor who was travelling in search of work, had not sat down to rest by the brook. As he had a compassionate heart he pulled out his needle and thread, and sewed her together. The bean thanked him, but as the tailor used black thread, all beans since then have a black seam.