Hansel and Grethel

Once upon a time there dwelt near a large wood a poor woodcutter, with
his wife and two children by his former marriage, a little boy called
Hansel, and a girl named Grethel. He had little enough to break or bite;
and once, when there was a great famine in the land, he could not
procure even his daily bread; and as he lay thinking in his bed one
evening, rolling about for trouble, he sighed, and said to his wife,
"What will become of us? How can we feed our children, when we have no
more than we can eat ourselves?"

"Know, then, my husband," answered she, "we will lead them away, quite
early in the morning, into the thickest part of the wood, and there make
them a fire, and give them each a little piece of bread; then we will go
to our work, and leave them alone, so they will not find the way home
again, and we shall be freed from them." "No, wife," replied he, "that I
can never do. How can you bring your heart to leave my children all
alone in the wood, for the wild beasts will soon come and tear them to
pieces?"

"Oh, you simpleton!" said she, "then we must all four die of hunger; you
had better plane the coffins for us." But she left him no peace till he
consented, saying, "Ah, but I shall regret the poor children."

The two children, however, had not gone to sleep for very hunger, and so
they overheard what the stepmother said to their father. Grethel wept
bitterly, and said to Hansel, "What will become of us?" "Be quiet,
Grethel," said he; "do not cry--I will soon help you." And as soon as
their parents had fallen asleep, he got up, put on his coat, and,
unbarring the back door, slipped out. The moon shone brilliantly, and
the white pebbles which lay before the door seemed like silver pieces,
they glittered so brightly. Hansel stooped down, and put as many into
his pocket as it would hold; and then going back, he said to Grethel,
"Be comforted, dear sister, and sleep in peace; God will not forsake
us." And so saying, he went to bed again.

The next morning, before the sun arose, the wife went and awoke the two
children. "Get up, you lazy things; we are going into the forest to chop
wood." Then she gave them each a piece of bread, saying, "There is
something for your dinner; do not eat it before the time, for you will
get nothing else." Grethel took the bread in her apron, for Hansel's
pocket was full of pebbles; and so they all set out upon their way. When
they had gone a little distance, Hansel stood still, and peeped back at
the house; and this he repeated several times, till his father said,
"Hansel, what are you peeping at, and why do you lag behind? Take care,
and remember your legs."

"Ah, father," said Hansel, "I am looking at my white cat sitting upon
the roof of the house, and trying to say good-bye." "You simpleton!"
said the wife, "that is not a cat; it is only the sun shining on the
white chimney." But in reality Hansel was not looking at a cat; but
every time he stopped, he dropped a pebble out of his pocket upon the
path.

When they came to the middle of the forest, the father told the children
to collect wood, and he would make them a fire, so that they should not
be cold. So Hansel and Grethel gathered together quite a little mountain
of twigs. Then they set fire to them; and as the flame burnt up high,
the wife said, "Now, you children, lie down near the fire, and rest
yourselves, while we go into the forest and chop wood; when we are
ready, I will come and call you."

Hansel and Grethel sat down by the fire, and when it was noon, each ate
the piece of bread; and because they could hear the blows of an axe,
they thought their father was near: but it was not an axe, but a branch
which he had bound to a withered tree, so as to be blown to and fro by
the wind. They waited so long that at last their eyes closed from
weariness, and they fell fast asleep. When they awoke, it was quite
dark, and Grethel began to cry, "How shall we get out of the wood?" But
Hansel tried to comfort her by saying, "Wait a little while till the
moon rises, and then we will quickly find the way." The moon soon shone
forth, and Hansel, taking his sister's hand, followed the pebbles, which
glittered like new-coined silver pieces, and showed them the path. All
night long they walked on, and as day broke they came to their father's
house. They knocked at the door, and when the wife opened it, and saw
Hansel and Grethel, she exclaimed, "You wicked children! why did you
sleep so long in the wood? We thought you were never coming home again."
But their father was very glad, for it had grieved his heart to leave
them all alone.

Not long afterward there was again great scarcity in every corner of the
land; and one night the children overheard their stepmother saying to
their father, "Everything is again consumed; we have only half a loaf
left, and then the song is ended: the children must be sent away. We
will take them deeper into the wood, so that they may not find the way
out again; it is the only means of escape for us."

But her husband felt heavy at heart, and thought, "It were better to
share the last crust with the children." His wife, however, would listen
to nothing that he said, and scolded and reproached him without end.

He who says A must say B too; and he who consents the first time must
also the second.

The children, however, had heard the conversation as they lay awake, and
as soon as the old people went to sleep Hansel got up, intending to pick
up some pebbles as before; but the wife had locked the door, so that he
could not get out. Nevertheless, he comforted Grethel, saying, "Do not
cry; sleep in quiet; the good God will not forsake us."

Early in the morning the stepmother came and pulled them out of bed, and
gave them each a slice of bread, which was still smaller than the former
piece. On the way, Hansel broke his in his pocket, and, stooping every
now and then, dropped a crumb upon the path. "Hansel, why do you stop
and look about?" said the father; "keep in the path." "I am looking at
my little dove," answered Hansel, "nodding a good-bye to me."
"Simpleton!" said the wife, "that is no dove, but only the sun shining
on the chimney." But Hansel still kept dropping crumbs as he went along.

The mother led the children deep into the wood, where they had never
been before, and there making an immense fire, she said to them, "Sit
down here and rest, and when you feel tired you can sleep for a little
while. We are going into the forest to hew wood, and in the evening,
when we are ready, we will come and fetch you."

When noon came Grethel shared her bread with Hansel, who had strewn his
on the path. Then they went to sleep; but the evening arrived and no one
came to visit the poor children, and in the dark night they awoke, and
Hansel comforted his sister by saying, "Only wait, Grethel, till the
moon comes out, then we shall see the crumbs of bread which I have
dropped, and they will show us the way home." The moon shone and they
got up, but they could not see any crumbs, for the thousands of birds
which had been flying about in the woods and fields had picked them all
up. Hansel kept saying to Grethel, "We will soon find the way"; but they
did not, and they walked the whole night long and the next day, but
still they did not come out of the wood; and they got so hungry, for
they had nothing to eat but the berries which they found upon the
bushes. Soon they got so tired that they could not drag themselves
along, so they lay down under a tree and went to sleep.

It was now the third morning since they had left their father's house,
and they still walked on; but they only got deeper and deeper into the
wood, and Hansel saw that if help did not come very soon they would die
of hunger. At about noonday they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting
upon a bough, which sang so sweetly that they stood still and listened
to it. It soon ceased, and spreading its wings flew off; and they
followed it until it arrived at a cottage, upon the roof of which it
perched; and when they went close up to it they saw that the cottage was
made of bread and cakes, and the window-panes were of clear sugar.

"We will go in there," said Hansel, "and have a glorious feast. I will
eat a piece of the roof, and you can eat the window. Will they not be
sweet?" So Hansel reached up and broke a piece off the roof, in order to
see how it tasted, while Grethel stepped up to the window and began to
bite it. Then a sweet voice called out in the room, "Tip-tap, tip-tap,
who raps at my door?" and the children answered, "the wind, the wind,
the child of heaven"; and they went on eating without interruption.
Hansel thought the roof tasted very nice, so he tore off a great piece;
while Grethel broke a large round pane out of the window, and sat down
quite contentedly. Just then the door opened, and a very old woman,
walking upon crutches, came out. Hansel and Grethel were so frightened
that they let fall what they had in their hands; but the old woman,
nodding her head, said, "Ah, you dear children, what has brought you
here? Come in and stop with me, and no harm shall befall you"; and so
saying she took them both by the hand, and led them into her cottage. A
good meal of milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts, was spread
on the table, and in the back room were two nice little beds, covered
with white, where Hansel and Grethel laid themselves down, and thought
themselves in heaven. The old woman behaved very kindly to them, but in
reality she was a wicked witch who waylaid children, and built the
bread-house in order to entice them in, but as soon as they were in her
power she killed them, cooked and ate them, and made a great festival of
the day. Witches have red eyes, and cannot see very far; but they have a
fine sense of smelling, like wild beasts, so that they know when
children approach them. When Hansel and Grethel came near the witch's
house she laughed wickedly, saying, "Here come two who shall not escape
me." And early in the morning, before they awoke, she went up to them,
and saw how lovingly they lay sleeping, with their chubby red cheeks,
and she mumbled to herself, "That will be a good bite." Then she took up
Hansel with her rough hands, and shut him up in a little cage with a
lattice-door; and although he screamed loudly it was of no use. Grethel
came next, and, shaking her till she awoke, the witch said, "Get up, you
lazy thing, and fetch some water to cook something good for your
brother, who must remain in that stall and get fat; when he is fat
enough I shall eat him." Grethel began to cry, but it was all useless,
for the old witch made her do as she wished. So a nice meal was cooked
for Hansel, but Grethel got nothing but a crab's claw.

Every morning the old witch came to the cage and said, "Hansel, stretch
out your finger that I may feel whether you are getting fat." But Hansel
used to stretch out a bone, and the old woman, having very bad sight,
thought it was his finger, and wondered very much that he did not get
fatter. When four weeks had passed, and Hansel still kept quite lean,
she lost all her patience, and would not wait any longer. "Grethel," she
called out in a passion, "get some water quickly; be Hansel fat or lean,
this morning I will kill and cook him." Oh, how the poor little sister
grieved, as she was forced to fetch the water, and fast the tears ran
down her cheeks! "Dear good God, help us now!" she exclaimed. "Had we
only been eaten by the wild beasts in the wood, then we should have died
together." But the old witch called out, "Leave off that noise; it will
not help you a bit."

So early in the morning Grethel was forced to go out and fill the
kettle, and make a fire. "First, we will bake, however," said the old
woman; "I have already heated the oven and kneaded the dough"; and so
saying, she pushed poor Grethel up to the oven, out of which the flames
were burning fiercely. "Creep in," said the witch, "and see if it is hot
enough, and then we will put in the bread"; but she intended when
Grethel got in to shut up the oven and let her bake, so that she might
eat her as well as Hansel. Grethel perceived what her thoughts were, and
said, "I do not know how to do it; how shall I get in?" "You stupid
goose," said she, "the opening is big enough. See, I could even get in
myself!" and she got up, and put her head into the oven. Then Grethel
gave her a push, so that she fell right in, and then shutting the iron
door she bolted it! Oh! how horribly she howled; but Grethel ran away,
and left the ungodly witch to burn to ashes.

Now she ran to Hansel, and, opening his door, called out, "Hansel, we
are saved; the old witch is dead!" So he sprang out, like a bird out of
his cage when the door is opened; and they were so glad that they fell
upon each other's neck, and kissed each other over and over again. And
now, as there was nothing to fear, they went into the witch's house,
where in every corner were caskets full of pearls and precious stones.
"These are better than pebbles," said Hansel, putting as many into his
pocket as it would hold; while Grethel thought, "I will take some too,"
and filled her apron full. "We must be off now," said Hansel, "and get
out of this enchanted forest." But when they had walked for two hours
they came to a large piece of water. "We cannot get over," said Hansel;
"I can see no bridge at all." "And there is no boat, either," said
Grethel; "but there swims a white duck, and I will ask her to help us
over." And she sang:

"Little Duck, good little Duck,
Grethel and Hansel, here we stand;
There is neither stile nor bridge,
Take us on your back to land."

So the duck came to them, and Hansel sat himself on, and bade his sister
sit behind him. "No," answered Grethel, "that will be too much for the
duck; she shall take us over one at a time." This the good little bird
did, and when both were happily arrived on the other side, and had gone
a little way, they came to a well-known wood, which they knew the better
every step they went, and at last they perceived their father's house.
Then they began to run, and, bursting into the house, they fell into
their father's arms. He had not had one happy hour since he had left the
children in the forest; and his wife was dead. Grethel shook her apron,
and the pearls and precious stones rolled out upon the floor, and Hansel
threw down one handful after the other out of his pocket. Then all their
sorrows were ended, and they lived together in great happiness.

My tale is done. There runs a mouse; whoever catches her may make a
great, great cap out of her fur.