Hansel and Grethel
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 groaned, 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 them."
"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 man.
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 us."
"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 else."
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 cold."
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 now?"
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 all!"
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 mouthful!"
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.
--from Frances Jenkins Olcott's Good Stories for
This border is based on an illustration (in the book)
that is based on a drawing by Clara M. Burd.