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Hansel And Gretel

from Favorite Fairy Tales.





Once upon a time there dwelt near a large wood a poor wood-cutter, with
his wife and two children by his former marriage, a little boy called
Hansel and a girl named Gretel. He had little enough to eat; and once,
when there was a great famine in the land, he could not get even his
daily bread. 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?"

"Well, 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."

But she gave him no peace until 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. Gretel wept
bitterly, and said to Hansel, "What will become of us?"



"Be quiet, Gretel," 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 brightly, 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 Gretel,
"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."

Gretel 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 wood 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 Gretel 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 Gretel 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 Gretel
began to cry, "How shall we get out of the wood?" But Hansel tried to
comfort her, 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 Gretel, 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 afterwards there was again great scarcity in every corner of
the land; and one night the children overheard their mother saying to
their father, "Everything is again eaten. We have only half a loaf left,
and then we must starve. 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.

Now the children had heard what had been said 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 Gretel, saying, "Do not
cry; sleep in peace; 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 one
they had last time. 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 kept still 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 Gretel shared her bread with Hansel, who had strewn his
on the path. They then 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, Gretel, 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."

When the moon shone 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 Gretel, "We will
soon find the way." But they did not. They walked the whole night long
and the next day, but still they did not come out of the wood; and they
got very 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. About the middle of the day they saw a beautiful snow-white
bird sitting on a bough, which sang so sweetly that they stood still and
listened to it. It soon left off and, spreading its wings, flew away.
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 Gretel 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.

Hansel thought the roof tasted very nice, and so he tore off a great
piece; while Gretel 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 Gretel 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 stay 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 Gretel laid themselves down, and
rested happily after all their hardships. The old woman was very kind
to them, but in reality she was a wicked witch who waylaid children,
and built the bread-house in order to entice them in; then 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 smell, like wild beasts, so that they know when children
approach them. When Hansel and Gretel 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 hand, and shut him up in a little cage with a
lattice-door; and although he screamed loudly it was of no use. Gretel
came next, and, shaking her till she awoke, she 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."

Gretel 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 Gretel 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 that it was his finger, and wondered very much that he did not
get fatter.

When four weeks had passed, and Hansel was still quite lean, she lost
all her patience, and would not wait any longer. "Gretel," 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, "Stop that noise; it will not help you a
bit."

So, early in the morning, Gretel 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
Gretel 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 Gretel got in to shut up
the oven and let her bake, so that she might eat her as well as Hansel.

Gretel saw 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 Gretel 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
Gretel ran away, and left the wicked 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 Gretel thought, "I will take some home
too," and filled her apron full. "We must be off now," said Hansel, "and
get out of this enchanted forest."

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 Gretel; "but there swims a white
duck--I will ask her to help us over," and she sang:

"Little Duck so blithe and merry,
Hansel, Gretel, here we stand;
There is neither bridge nor ferry,
Row us on your back to land."

So the Duck came to them, and Hansel sat himself on her back, and bade
his sister sit behind him.

"No," answered Gretel, "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 wood, which they
knew the better every step they went, and at last they saw their
father's house. Then they began to run, and, bursting into the house,
they fell on their father's neck.

He had not had one happy hour since he had left the children in the
forest; and his wife was dead. Gretel shook her apron, and the pearls
and precious stones rolled out on the floor, and Hansel threw down one
handful after another out of his pocket. Then all their sorrows were
ended, and they lived together in great happiness.





Next: The Goose Girl

Previous: Sindbad The Sailor The Seventh And Last Voyage



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