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Hansel & 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

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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