Hansel and Gretel
Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who lived close to a large forest with his second wife and his two children. They were always very poor and had very little to live on. One summer, there was famine in the land and the father could not find enough bread for his family.
One night he lay in bed worrying over his troubles and he sighed and said to his wife: “What is going to happen to us? How are we going to feed our children when he have nothing for ourselves?”
“I’ll tell you what,” answered the woman. “Tomorrow morning we will take the children into the thickest part of the forest. We will light a fire, give each of them a piece of bread; then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They won’t be able to find their way back home, so we won’t have to care for them any more.”
“No, we can’t do that!” said the man. “That would break my heart. And wild animals would soon kill them and eat them.”
“You are a fool! All four of us will die of hunger. We are all going to die!” said his wife.
She nagged him and nagged him again until he agreed. “But I feel sorry for the poor children all the same” said the man.
The two children could not go to sleep because they were hungry and they heard what their parents had said. Gretel started to cry. “That is the end of us!” she said.
“Be quiet, Gretel!” said Hansel. “Don’t cry. I will find some way out of this.”
When everyone had gone to sleep, he got up, put on his little coat, opened the door and went outside. The moon was shining brightly and the white pebbles around the house shone like new coins. Hansel picked up some pebbles and put as many as he could into his pockets.
Then he went back to Gretel and said, “Don’t worry sister, I have a plan.”
The next day, when the sun had risen, their stepmother came into their room and said, “Quick, get up, lazy children! Today we are going into the forest to fetch wood.” She gave each of them a small piece of bread and said, “This is for your dinner. Don’t eat it until then. We have nothing else.”
Hansel and Gretel walked along a path in the forest behind their father and stepmother. Sometimes, Hansel stopped and dropped a pebble onto the ground. When they reached the middle of the forest, their father said: “Now children, pick up some wood. I want to make a fire to warm you.” Hansel and Gretel gathered many sticks together and made a huge bundle. Their father lit the wood and when the fire was big, the stepmother said “Now lie by the fire and have a rest while we go to cut wood. When we have finished, we will come back to fetch you.”
Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire. When dinnertime came, they ate their little piece of bread. The thought their father was quite near because they heard the sound of an axe. It was no axe, however, but a branch that the man had tied to a dead tree, and which the wind blew against the tree, making a noise.
They sat there for such a long time that they became tired, their eyes started to close, and they were soon fast asleep.
When they woke it was dark night. Gretel started to cry. “How can we get out of the forest?” she said. But Hansel comforted her, and said: “Wait a little until the moon rises, then we will soon find our way!”
When the full moon rose, Hansel took his little sister’s hand, and they walked along the path, guided by the pebbles that glittered like coins. They walked the whole night, and at daybreak, they found themselves back at their father’s cottage.
They knocked at the door and the woman opened it and said: “You bad children. Why did you sleep so long in the forest? We thought you didn’t want to come home.”
But their father was delighted, because it broke his heart to leave them there.
A few days later, however, again there was no food for them to eat. At night, as they lay in bed, the woman said to their father: “We have eaten everything. The children must go away. We will take them further into the forest so that they cannot come back.”
The man was quiet and said: “We must share our last piece of bread with the children.”
But the woman would not listen to him. She nagged him and scolded him. Eventually the father gave in. He had to do the same thing a second time. The children were awake and heard everything.
When everyone had gone to sleep, Hansel put on his coat again and went to the door. He wanted to pick up more pebbles. But the woman had locked the door and he couldn’t open it. He told his little sister: “Don’t cry, Gretel. God will help us.”
In the early morning, the woman made the children get up, and gave them each a piece of bread, but it was smaller than last time. On the way into the forest, Hansel crumbled it in his pocket. Every few minutes, he stopped and dropped a crumb onto the ground.
The woman led the children far into the forest, to where the children had never been before. Again, they made a big fire, and the woman said: “Stay here, children. When you are tired, you can go to sleep for a while. We are going to cut wood, and we will come back for you in the evening.”
At dinnertime, Gretel shared her bread with Hansel. Then they went to sleep. The evening came, but nobody came to fetch them.
It was dark when they woke up. “Wait a little, Gretel” said Hansel. When the moon rises, we can see the breadcrumbs that I dropped on the ground. They will show the way to go home.”
When the moon rose, they looked around, but they could not see any breadcrumbs, because the birds in the forest had eaten them. Hansel said to Gretel: “We will soon find the way.”
But they could not find it. They walked all night, and they walked all the next day until night, but they could not get out of the forest.
They were very hungry, because they only ate a few berries that they found. They were so tired that their legs would not move any more, so they lay down under a tree and went to sleep.
When they woke in the morning, they started to walk again. It was now the third day since they left their father’s cottage. At midday they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a tree. It sang so beautifully that they stopped to listen to it. They followed it until it stood on the roof of a little cottage. When the children got near, they realized that the walls were made of bread, the roof was made of cake and the windows were made of transparent sugar.
“We can have a good meal!” said Hansel. He broke off a piece of the roof and tasted it. It was so delicious. Gretel went to the window and started to eat a piece. It was so good that she pushed out a whole pane of the window and sat down on the ground to enjoy it.
Suddenly the door opened and an old woman with a crutch came out. Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they dropped what they were holding in their hands.
But the old woman smiled and said: “Ah, dear children. Who brought you here? Come in and stay with me.”
She took them by the hand and led them into the little house. She gave them a nice dinner of pancakes and sugar, milk, apples and nuts. After this she showed them two little white beds into which they crept, and they felt as if they were in heaven.
Although the old woman seemed to be friendly, she was really a wicked old witch. She had built the bread house to lure children to her. Whenever she found a child, she cooked it and ate it. It was a great feast for her.
She got up early in the morning, before the children were awake, and when she saw them sleeping, with their beautiful rosy cheeks, she said to herself: “They will taste really good!”
She picked up Hansel and carried him off to a little stable, where she locked him in. He shouted and shouted but she didn’t listen. Then she went to Gretel and shook her until she woke up. “Get up, lazy girl! Fetch some water and cook something for your brother. We have to fatten him. When he is nice and fat, I will eat him!”
Gretel started to cry but she had to obey the witch’s orders. The best food was now given to Hansel but Gretel only got shrimp shells.
Every morning the old woman hobbled to the stable and said: “Hansel, put your finger out for me. I want to feel how fat you are.”
Hansel put out a little bone and the old woman, whose eyes were very weak, thought that it was his finger. She was astonished that he wasn’t getting fat.
After four weeks passed, and Hansel was still thin, the old lady became very impatient and couldn’t wait any longer.
“Gretel, fetch the water” she said. Tomorrow, I am going to kill Hansel and eat him.
Gretel was so sad. As she fetched the water, tears rolled down her cheeks. It would have been better if we had died together in the forest, she thought.
Early the next morning, Gretel had to fill the kettle with water, then light a fire and hang the kettle over it.
“We will bake first,” said the old witch. I have heated the oven and kneaded the dough.” She wanted to eat Hansel with some fresh bread.
She pushed poor Gretel toward the oven and said: “Creep in and see if it is hot enough, and then we will put the bread in.”
Actually, she wanted to put Gretel in the oven first and roast her.
But Gretel wasn’t that stupid. She said: “I don’t know how to get in. What should I do?”
“You stupid thing” said the witch. The door is big enough. Even I can get in. Then the old woman went up to the oven and put her head in it. At that moment, Gretel gave the witch a push and sent her right into the oven. Then Gretel closed the door and locked it.
“Oh! Oh!” she started to howl horribly. But Gretel ran away and left the wicked witch to die.
Gretel ran as fast as she could to the stable. She opened the door and cried: “Hansel, we are saved. The old witch is dead.”
Hansel rushed out, like a bird out of a cage when the door is open. How delighted they were. They kissed each other and danced about for joy.
As they had nothing more to fear, they went into the witch’s house and they found chests in every corner full of pearls and precious stones.
“These are better than pebbles,” said Hansel, as he filled his pockets. “I must take something home, too,” said Gretel and she also filled her apron. “Now we must go and get out of this enchanted wood,” said Hansel.
Before they had gone very far, they reached a large lake.
“We can’t get across,” said Hansel. “I cannot see a bridge.”
“And there are no boats, either,” answered Gretel. “But there is a duck swimming. It will help us over if we ask it.”
“Little duck, that cries quack, quack, quack,
Quickly, take us on your back.”
The duck came swimming towards them, and Hansel got on its back and told his sister to sit on his knee.
“No,” answered Gretel, “we will be too heavy for the duck. It must take us one after the other.”
The kind duck did this, and when they both got safely to the other side and started walking through the forest again, the wood seemed to grow more and more familiar. At last, they saw their father’s cottage in the distance. They began to run, and rushed inside, where they threw their arms around their father’s neck. The man had been overcome with sadness since he left his children in the forest.
“Your stepmother has died,” said their father.
Gretel shook her apron and scattered pearls and precious stones all over the floor, and Hansel added handful after handful from his pockets.
So, all their troubles came to an end, and they lived together as happily as possible.