Hansel And Grethel

: Good Stories For Great Holidays


Hard-by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his two children

and his wife who was their stepmother. The boy was called Hansel and the

girl Grethel. The wood-cutter had little to bite and to break, and once

when a great famine fell on the land he could no longer get daily bread.

Now when he thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in

his trouble, he g
oaned, and said to his wife:--

"What is to become of us? How are we to feed our poor children, when we

no longer have anything even for ourselves?"

"I'll tell you what, husband," answered the woman; "early to-morrow

morning we will take the children out into the woods where it is the

thickest; there we will light a fire for them, and give each of them

one piece of bread more, and then we will go to our work and leave them

alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of


"No, wife," said the man, "I will not do that; how can I bear to leave

my children alone in the woods?--the wild beasts would soon come and

tear them to pieces."

"Oh, you fool!" said she. "Then we must all four die of hunger; you may

as well plane the planks for our coffins." And she left him no peace

until he said he would do as she wished.

"But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same," said the


The two children had also not been able to sleep for hunger, and had

heard what their father's wife had said to their father.

Grethel wept bitter tears, and said to Hansel, "Now all is over with


"Be quiet, Grethel," said Hansel, "do not be troubled; I will soon find

a way to help us."

And when the old folks had fallen asleep, he got up, put on his little

coat, opened the door below, and crept outside. The moon shone brightly,

and the white pebbles which lay in front of the house shone like real

silver pennies. Hansel stooped and put as many of them in the little

pocket of his coat as he could make room for. Then he went back, and

said to Grethel, "Be at ease, dear little sister, and sleep in peace;

God will not forsake us." And he lay down again in his bed.

When the day dawned, but before the sun had risen, the woman came and

awoke the two children, saying:--

"Get up, you lazy things! we are going into the forest to fetch wood."

She gave each a little piece of bread, and said, "There is something for

your dinner, but do not eat it up before then, for you will get nothing


Grethel 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, and

Hansel threw one after another of the white pebble-stones out of his

pocket on the road.

When they had reached the middle of the forest, the father said, "Now,

children, pile up some wood and I will light a fire that you may not be


Hansel and Grethel drew brushwood together till it was as high as a

little hill.

The brushwood was lighted, and when the flames were burning very high

the woman said:--

"Now, children, lie down by the fire and rest; we will go into the

forest and cut some wood. When we have done, we will come back and fetch

you away."

Hansel and Grethel sat by the fire, and when noon came, each ate a

little piece of bread, and as they heard the strokes of the wood-axe

they were sure their father was near. But it was not the axe, it was

a branch which he had tied to a dry tree, and the wind was blowing it

backward and forward. As they had been sitting such a long time they

were tired, their eyes shut, and they fell fast asleep. When at last

they awoke, it was dark night.

Grethel began to cry, and said, "How are we to get out of the forest


But Hansel comforted her, saying, "Just wait a little, until the moon

has risen, and then we will soon find the way."

And when the full moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister by the

hand, and followed the pebbles, which shone like bright silver pieces,

and showed them the way.

They walked the whole night long, and by break of day came once more to

their father's house.

They knocked at the door, and when the woman opened it, and saw that it

was Hansel and Grethel, she said, "You naughty children, why have you

slept so long in the forest? we thought you were never coming back at


The father, however, was glad, for it had cut him to the heart to leave

them behind alone.

Not long after, there was once more a great lack of food in all parts,

and the children heard the woman saying at night to their father:--

"Everything is eaten again; we have one half-loaf left, and after that

there is an end. The children must go; we will take them farther into

the wood, so that they will not find their way out again; there is no

other means of saving ourselves!"

The man's heart was heavy, and he thought, "It would be better to share

our last mouthful with the children."

The woman, however, would listen to nothing he had to say, but scolded

him. He who says A must say B, too, and as he had given way the first

time, he had to do so a second time also.

The children were still awake and had heard the talk. When the old folks

were asleep, Hansel again got up, and wanted to go and pick up pebbles,

but the woman had locked the door, and he could not get out.

So he comforted his little sister, and said:--

"Do not cry, Grethel; go to sleep quietly, the good God will help us."

Early in the morning came the woman, and took the children out of their

beds. Their bit of bread was given to them, but it was still smaller

than the time before. On the way into the forest Hansel crumbled his

in his pocket, and often threw a morsel on the ground until little by

little, he had thrown all the crumbs on the path.

The woman led the children still deeper into the forest, where they had

never in their lives been before. Then a great fire was again made, and

she said:--

"Just sit there, you children, and when you are tired you may sleep a

little; we are going into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening

when we are done, we will come and fetch you away."

When it was noon, Grethel shared her piece of bread with Hansel, who had

scattered his by the way. Then they fell asleep, and evening came and

went, but no one came to the poor children.

They did not awake until it was dark night, and Hansel comforted his

little sister, and said:--

"Just wait, Grethel, until the moon rises, and then we shall see the

crumbs of bread which I have scattered about; they will show us our way

home again."

When the moon came they set out, but they found no crumbs, for the many

thousands of birds which fly about in the woods and fields had picked

them all up.

Hansel said to Grethel, "We shall soon find the way."

But they did not find it. They walked the whole night and all the next

day, too, from morning till evening, but they did not get out of the

forest; they were very hungry, for they had nothing to eat but two or

three berries which grew on the ground. And as they were so tired that

their legs would carry them no longer, they lay down under a tree and

fell asleep.

It was now three mornings since they had left their father's house. They

began to walk again, but they always got deeper into the forest, and if

help did not come soon, they must die of hunger and weariness. When it

was midday, they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a bough. It

sang so sweetly that they stood still and listened to it. And when

it had done, it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they

followed it until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it

perched; and when they came quite up to the little house, they saw it

was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of

clear sugar.

"We will set to work on that," said Hansel, "and have a good meal.

I will eat a bit of the roof, and you, Grethel, can eat some of the

window, it will taste sweet."

Hansel reached up, and broke off a little of the roof to try how it

tasted, and Grethel leaned against the window and nibbled at the panes.

Then a soft voice cried from the room,--

"Nibble, nibble, gnaw,

Who is nibbling at my little house?"

The children answered:--

"The wind, the wind,

The wind from heaven";

and went on eating. Hansel, who thought the roof tasted very nice, tore

down a great piece of it; and Grethel pushed out the whole of one round

window-pane, sat down, and went to eating it.

All at once the door opened, and a very, very old woman, who leaned on

crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and Grethel were so scared that they

let fall what they had in their hands.

The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said, "Oh, you dear

children, who has brought you here? Do come in, and stay with me. No

harm shall happen to you."

She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then

good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples,

and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean

white linen, and Hansel and Grethel lay down in them, and thought they

were in heaven.

The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a

wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had built the little

bread house in order to coax them there.

Early in the morning, before the children were awake, she was already

up, and when she saw both of them sleeping and looking so pretty, with

their plump red cheeks, she muttered to herself, "That will be a dainty


Then she seized Hansel, carried him into a little stable, and shut him

in behind a grated door. He might scream as he liked,--it was of no use.

Then she went to Grethel, shook her till she awoke and cried: "Get up,

lazy thing; fetch some water, and cook something good for your brother;

he is in the stable outside, and is to be made fat. When he is fat, I

will eat him."

Grethel began to weep, but it was all in vain; she was forced to do what

the wicked witch told her.

And now the best food was cooked for poor Hansel, but Grethel got

nothing but crab-shells.

Every morning the woman crept to the little stable, and cried, "Hansel,

stretch out your finger that I may feel if you will soon be fat."

Hansel, however, stretched out a little bone to her, and the old woman,

who had dim eyes, could not see it; she thought it was Hansel's finger,

and wondered why he grew no fatter. When four weeks had gone by, and

Hansel still was thin, she could wait no longer.

"Come, Grethel," she cried to the girl, "fly round and bring some water.

Let Hansel be fat or lean, to-morrow I will kill him, and cook him."

Ah, how sad was the poor little sister when she had to fetch the water,

and how her tears did flow down over her cheeks!

"Dear God, do help us," she cried. "If the wild beasts in the forest had

but eaten us, we should at any rate have died together."

"Just keep your noise to yourself," said the old woman; "all that won't

help you at all."

Early in the morning, Grethel had to go out and hang up the kettle with

the water, and light the fire.

"We will bake first," said the old woman. "I have already heated the

oven, and got the dough ready."

She pushed poor Grethel out to the oven, from which the flames of fire

were already darting.

"Creep in," said the witch, "and see if it is heated, so that we can

shut the bread in." And when once Grethel was inside, she meant to shut

the oven and let her bake in it, and then she would eat her, too.

But Grethel saw what she had in her mind, and said, "I do not know how I

am to do it; how do you get in?"

"Silly goose," said the old woman. "The door is big enough; just look, I

can get in myself!" and she crept up and thrust her head into the oven.

Then Grethel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the

iron door, tight.

Grethel ran as quick as lightning to Hansel, opened his little stable,

and cried, "Hansel, we are saved! The old witch is dead!"

Then Hansel sprang out like a bird from its cage when the door is opened

for it. How they did dance about and kiss each other. And as they had

no longer any need to fear her, they went into the witch's house, and in

every corner there stood chests full of pearls and jewels.

"These are far better than pebbles!" said Hansel, and filled his

pockets, and Grethel said, "I, too, will take something home with me,"

and filled her pinafore.

"But now we will go away," said Hansel, "that we may get out of the

witch's forest." When they had walked for two hours, they came to a

great piece of water. "We cannot get over," said Hansel; "I see no

foot-plank and no bridge."

"And no boat crosses, either," answered Grethel, "but a white duck is

swimming there; if I ask her, she will help us over." Then she cried,--

"Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,

Hansel and Grethel are waiting for thee?

There's never a plank or bridge in sight,

Take us across on thy back so white."

The duck came to them, and Hansel sat on its back, and told his sister

to sit by him.

"No," replied Grethel, "that will be too heavy for the little duck; she

shall take us across, one after the other."

The good little duck did so, and when they were once safely across and

had walked for a short time, they knew where they were, and at last they

saw from afar their father's house.

Then they began to run, rushed in, and threw themselves into their

father's arms. The man had not known one happy hour since he had left

the children in the forest; the woman, however, was dead. Grethel

emptied her pinafore until pearls and precious stones rolled about the

floor, and Hansel threw one handful after another out of his pocket

to add to them. Then all care was at an end, and they lived happily

together ever after.

My tale is done; there runs a mouse; whosoever catches it may make

himself a big fur cap out of it.