Hansel And Grettel





Once upon a time there dwelt on the outskirts of a

large forest a poor woodcutter with his wife and two

children; the boy was called Hansel and the girl Grettel.

He had always little enough to live on, and once, when

there was a great famine in the land, he couldn't even

provide them with daily bread. One night, as he was tossing

about in bed, full of cares and worry, he sighed and said

to his wife: "What's to become of us? how are we to

support our poor children, now that we have nothing

more for ourselves?" "I'll tell you what, husband,"

answered the woman; "early to-morrow morning we'll

take the children out into the thickest part of the wood;

there we shall light a fire for them and give them each a

piece of bread; then we'll go on to our work and leave

them alone. They won't be able to find their way home,

and we shall thus be rid of them." "No, wife," said her

husband, "that I won't do; how could I find it in my

heart to leave my children alone in the wood? The wild

beasts would soon come and tear them to pieces." "Oh!

you fool," said she, "then we must all four die of hunger,

and you may just as well go and plane the boards for our

coffins"; and she left him no peace till he consented. "But

I can't help feeling sorry for the poor children," added the

husband.



The children, too, had not been able to sleep for hunger,

and had heard what their step-mother had said to their

father. Grettel wept bitterly and spoke to Hansel: "Now

it's all up with us." "No, no, Grettel," said Hansel,

"don't fret yourself; I'll be able to find a way to escape,

no fear." And when the old people had fallen asleep he

got up, slipped on his little coat, opened the back door and

stole out. The moon was shining clearly, and the white

pebbles which lay in front of the house glittered like bits

of silver. Hansel bent down and filled his pocket with as

many of them as he could cram in. Then he went back

and said to Grettel: "Be comforted, my dear little sister,

and go to sleep: God will not desert us"; and he lay down

in bed again.



At daybreak, even before the sun was up, the woman

came and woke the two children: "Get up, you lie-abeds,

we're all going to the forest to fetch wood." She gave

them each a bit of bread and said: "There's something for

your luncheon, but don't you eat it up before, for it's all

you'll get." Grettel took the bread under her apron, as

Hansel had the stones in his pocket. Then they all set

out together on the way to the forest. After they had

walked for a little, Hansel stood still and looked back at

the house, and this maneuver he repeated again and again.

His father observed him, and said: "Hansel, what are you

gazing at there, and why do you always remain behind?

Take care, and don't lose your footing." "Oh! father,"

said Hansel, "I am looking back at my white kitten,

which is sitting on the roof, waving me a farewell." The

woman exclaimed: "What a donkey you are! that isn't

your kitten, that's the morning sun shining on the chimney."

But Hansel had not looked back at his kitten, but

had always dropped one of the white pebbles out of his

pocket on to the path.



When they had reached the middle of the forest the

father said: "Now, children, go and fetch a lot of wood,

and I'll light a fire that you may not feel cold." Hansel

and Grettel heaped up brushwood till they had made a

pile nearly the size of a small hill. The brushwood was

set fire to, and when the flames leaped high the woman

said: "Now lie down at the fire, children, and rest

yourselves: we are going into the forest to cut down wood;

when we've finished we'll come back and fetch you."

Hansel and Grettel sat down beside the fire, and at midday

ate their little bits of bread. They heard the strokes

of the axe, so they thought their father was quite near.

But it was no axe they heard, but a bough he had tied on

a dead tree, and that was blown about by the wind. And

when they had sat for a long time their eyes closed with

fatigue, and they fell fast asleep. When they awoke at

last it was pitch dark. Grettel began to cry, and said:

"How are we ever to get out of the wood?" But Hansel

comforted her. "Wait a bit," he said, "till the moon is

up, and then we'll find our way sure enough." And when

the full moon had risen he took his sister by the hand and

followed the pebbles, which shone like new threepenny

bits, and showed them the path. They walked on through

the night, and at daybreak reached their father's house

again. They knocked at the door, and when the woman

opened it she exclaimed: "You naughty children, what

a time you've slept in the wood! we thought you were

never going to come back." But the father rejoiced, for

his conscience had reproached him for leaving his children

behind by themselves.



Not long afterward there was again great dearth in the

land, and the children heard their mother address their

father thus in bed one night: "Everything is eaten up

once more; we have only half a loaf in the house, and

when that's done it's all up with us. The children must

be got rid of; we'll lead them deeper into the wood this

time, so that they won't be able to find their way out

again. There is no other way of saving ourselves." The

man's heart smote him heavily, and he thought: "Surely

it would be better to share the last bite with one's

children!" But his wife wouldn't listen to his arguments, and

did nothing but scold and reproach him. If a man yields

once he's done for, and so, because he had given in the

first time, he was forced to do so the second.



But the children were awake, and had heard the

conversation. When the old people were asleep Hansel got

up, and wanted to go out and pick up pebbles again, as

he had done the first time; but the woman had barred the

door, and Hansel couldn't get out. But he consoled his

little sister, and said: "Don't cry, Grettel, and sleep

peacefully, for God is sure to help us."



At early dawn the woman came and made the children

get up. They received their bit of bread, but it was even

smaller than the time before. On the way to the wood

Hansel crumbled it in his pocket, and every few minutes

he stood still and dropped a crumb on the ground.

"Hansel, what are you stopping and looking about you for?"

said the father. "I'm looking back at my little pigeon,

which is sitting on the roof waving me a farewell,"

answered Hansel. "Fool!" said the wife; "that isn't your

pigeon, it's the morning sun glittering on the chimney."

But Hansel gradually threw all his crumbs on the path.

The woman led the children still deeper into the forest

farther than they had ever been in their lives before.

Then a big fire was lit again, and the mother said: "Just

sit down there, children, and if you're tired you can sleep

a bit; we're going into the forest to cut down wood, and

in the evening when we're finished we'll come back to

fetch you." At midday Grettel divided her bread with

Hansel, for he had strewn his all along their path. Then

they fell asleep, and evening passed away, but nobody

came to the poor children. They didn't awake till it was

pitch dark, and Hansel comforted his sister, saying:

"Only wait, Grettel, till the moon rises, then we shall see

the bread-crumbs I scattered along the path; they will

show us the way back to the house." When the moon

appeared they got up, but they found no crumbs, for the

thousands of birds that fly about the woods and fields had

picked them all up. "Never mind," said Hansel to Grettel;

"you'll see we'll find a way out"; but all the same they

did not. They wandered about the whole night, and the

next day, from morning till evening, but they could not

find a path out of the wood. They were very hungry, too,

for they had nothing to eat but a few berries they found

growing on the ground. And at last they were so tired

that their legs refused to carry them any longer, so they

lay down under a tree and fell fast asleep.



On the third morning after they had left their father's

house they set about their wandering again, but only got

deeper and deeper into the wood, and now they felt that

if help did not come to them soon they must perish. At

midday they saw a beautiful little snow-white bird sitting

on a branch, which sang so sweetly that they stopped still

and listened to it. And when its song was finished it

flapped its wings and flew on in front of them. They

followed it and came to a little house, on the roof of which

it perched; and when they came quite near they saw that

the cottage was made of bread and roofed with cakes,

while the window was made of transparent sugar. "Now

we'll set to," said Hansel, "and have a regular blow-out.[1]

I'll eat a bit of the roof, and you, Grettel, can eat some

of the window, which you'll find a sweet morsel." Hansel

stretched up his hand and broke off a little bit of the roof

to see what it was like, and Grettel went to the casement

and began to nibble at it. Thereupon a shrill voice called

out from the room inside:



"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,

Who's nibbling my house?"



The children answered:



"Tis Heaven's own child,

The tempest wild,"



and went on eating, without putting themselves about.

Hansel, who thoroughly appreciated the roof, tore down

a big bit of it, while Grettel pushed out a whole round

window-pane, and sat down the better to enjoy it. Suddenly

the door opened, and an ancient dame leaning on a

staff hobbled out. Hansel and Grettel were so terrified

that they let what they had in their hands fall. But the

old woman shook her head and said: "Oh, ho! you dear

children, who led you here? Just come in and stay with

me, no ill shall befall you." She took them both by the

hand and let them into the house, and laid a most

sumptuous dinner before them--milk and sugared pancakes,

with apples and nuts. After they had finished, two

beautiful little white beds were prepared for them, and when

Hansel and Grettel lay down in them they felt as if they

had got into heaven.





[1] He was a vulgar boy!





The old woman had appeared to be most friendly, but

she was really an old witch who had waylaid the children,

and had only built the little bread house in order to

lure them in. When anyone came into her power she

killed, cooked, and ate him, and held a regular feast-day

for the occasion. Now witches have red eyes, and cannot

see far, but, like beasts, they have a keen sense of smell,

and know when human beings pass by. When Hansel and

Grettel fell into her hands she laughed maliciously, and

said jeeringly: "I've got them now; they sha'n't escape

me." Early in the morning, before the children were

awake, she rose up, and when she saw them both sleeping

so peacefully, with their round rosy cheeks, she muttered

to herself: "That'll be a dainty bite." Then she seized

Hansel with her bony hand and carried him into a little

stable, and barred the door on him; he might scream as

much as he liked, it did him no good. Then she went to

Grettel, shook her till she awoke, and cried: "Get up, you

lazy-bones, fetch water and cook something for your

brother. When he's fat I'll eat him up." Grettel began

to cry bitterly, but it was of no use; she had to do what

the wicked witch bade her.



So the best food was cooked for poor Hansel, but Grettel

got nothing but crab-shells. Every morning the old woman

hobbled out to the stable and cried: "Hansel, put out

your finger, that I may feel if you are getting fat." But

Hansel always stretched out a bone, and the old dame,

whose eyes were dim, couldn't see it, and thinking always

it was Hansel's finger, wondered why he fattened so

slowly. When four weeks had passed and Hansel still

remained thin, she lost patience and determined to wait no

longer. "Hi, Grettel," she called to the girl, "be quick and

get some water. Hansel may be fat or thin, I'm going to

kill him to-morrow and cook him." Oh! how the poor

little sister sobbed as she carried the water, and how the

tears rolled down her cheeks! "Kind heaven help us now!"

she cried; "if only the wild beasts in the wood had eaten

us, then at least we should have died together." "Just

hold your peace," said the old hag; "it won't help you."



Early in the morning Grettel had to go out and hang

up the kettle full of water, and light the fire. "First we'll

bake," said the old dame; "I've heated the oven already

and kneaded the dough." She pushed Grettel out to the

oven, from which fiery flames were already issuing.

"Creep in," said the witch, "and see if it's properly heated,

so that we can shove in the bread." For when she had

got Grettel in she meant to close the oven and let the girl

bake, that she might eat her up too. But Grettel

perceived her intention, and said: "I don't know how I'm to

do it; how do I get in?" "You silly goose!" said the hag,

"the opening is big enough; see, I could get in myself,"

and she crawled toward it, and poked her head into the

oven. Then Grettel gave her a shove that sent her right

in, shut the iron door, and drew the bolt. Gracious! how

she yelled, it was quite horrible; but Grettel fled, and the

wretched old woman was left to perish miserably.



Grettel flew straight to Hansel, opened the little stable-door,

and cried: "Hansel, we are free; the old witch is

dead." Then Hansel sprang like a bird out of a cage when

the door is opened. How they rejoiced, and fell on each

other's necks, and jumped for joy, and kissed one another!

And as they had no longer any cause for fear, they went

in the old hag's house, and here they found, in every

corner of the room, boxes with pearls and precious stones.

"These are even better than pebbles," said Hansel, and

crammed his pockets full of them; and Grettel said: "I

too will bring something home," and she filled her apron

full. "But now," said Hansel, "let's go and get well away

from the witch's wood." When they had wandered about

for some hours they came to a big lake. "We can't get

over," said Hansel; "I see no bridge of any sort or kind."

"Yes, and there's no ferry-boat either," answered Grettel;

"but look, there swims a white duck; if I ask her she'll

help us over," and she called out:



"Here are two children, mournful very,

Seeing neither bridge nor ferry;

Take us upon your white back,

And row us over, quack, quack!"





The duck swam toward them, and Hansel got on her

back and bade his little sister sit beside him. "No,"

answered Grettel, "we should be too heavy a load for the

duck: she shall carry us across separately." The good

bird did this, and when they were landed safely on the

other side, and had gone for a while, the wood became

more and more familiar to them, and at length they saw

their father's house in the distance. Then they set off to

run, and bounding into the room fell on their father's neck.

The man had not passed a happy hour since he left them

in the wood, but the woman had died. Grettel shook out

her apron so that the pearls and precious stones rolled

about the room, and Hansel threw down one handful after

the other out of his pocket. Thus all their troubles were

ended, and they lived happily ever afterward.



My story is done. See! there runs a little mouse;

anyone who catches it may make himself a large fur cap out

of it.





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