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HANSEL AND GRETHEL
By WlLHELM AND Jakob Grimm
ANY, many years ago there lived close
by a great forest a woodcutter and his
family. There were two children,
Hansel and Grethel, and the wood
j cutter's wife. The mother of Hansel
^. Js and Grethel died long before, and their
father's present wife did not have any
love for the little ones.
They were very poor indeed, and when a great famine came on the land and food grew scarce and dear, the woodcutter could no longer buy food enough for his whole family.
One night when the poor man lay tossing on his bed in deep anxiety, he said to his wife:
"Alas! what will become of us? How can we feed the children when we have no more than enough for ourselves?"
"Now listen, my husband," answered his wife; "I will tell you what to do. As it is not longer possible for us to feed the children, we will take them into the forest with us to-morrow, light a nice, warm fire for them, give them each a piece of bread, and leave them."
"No, no," said the father; "I could never leave my Hansel and Grethel to die in the woods. I could not bear to think of the wild beasts tearing them limb from limb."
"Then we must all four die of hunger," said the wife; "you may as well cut the boards for our coffins."
She continued to talk, and her husband was at last so worried that he agreed to do as she wished.
"But I feel terribly about the poor children," said the husband, as he turned over and went to sleep.
The two children were so hungry that they had not gone to sleep, and they overheard every word that was said. Grethel cried bitterly, but Hansel was very brave and tried to comfort his little sister, saying,
"Don't cry, dear! You need not be afraid. I will take care of you."
As soon as his father and stepmother were asleep, he slipped on his coat, and, opening the door softly, went out into the garden. The moon was shining brightly, and by its light he could see the little white pebbles that lay scattered in front of the house, shining like little pieces of silver. He stooped and filled his pockets as full as he could, and then went back to Grethel.
"Don't fear anything, little sister," he said, as he climbed into bed. "God will take care of us. Go to sleep now."
Early in the morning, before the sun had risen, the stepmother came and awakened the children.
"Rise, little lie-a-beds," she said, "and come with us into the wood to gather fuel."
She gave them each a piece of bread for their dinner, and told them to be sure not to eat it too soon, for they would get nothing more.
Grethel carried the bread in her pinafore because Hansel had his pockets full of pebbles, and they all set out upon their way to the wood.
As they trudged along, the father noticed that his little son kept turning back to look at the house.
"Take care, my boy," he said, "or you will slip. What are you looking at so earnestly?"
"I am watching my kitten, father; she is sitting on the roof to bid me good-bye."
"Silly little lad, that is not your cat," said the stepmother; "it is only the morning sun shining on the chimney."
Now Hansel was not really looking at the cat, but every time he turned around he took a white pebble from his pocket and quietly dropped it in the path.
When they were deep in the forest the father said to the children:
"Now you gather all the wood you can find and I will build you a fine fire so you will not be so cold."
When Hansel and Grethel had gathered quite a mountain of twigs and branches, the father set fire to them, and as the flames burned up warm and bright, the wife said:
"Now lie down, children, near the fire, and rest yourselves. We will go further and chop wood. When we are ready to go home I will come and call you."
Hansel and Grethel sat down by the fire, and when it was noon each ate a piece of bread. They were not frightened, because they thought they heard the blows of their father's axe. But it was not the axe; it was a branch which the father had tied to a tree; and when the wind blew, the branch flew backward and forward against the tree. They waited and waited, and at last their eyes grew heavy, and from pure weariness they fell asleep.
When they awoke, the night was very dark, and Grethel was frightened, and began to cry. Hansel put his arms around her and whispered, "Wait, dearie, till the moon rises; we shall soon find our way home then."
As soon as the bright moon rose, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and all night long they followed the track of the little white pebbles, until at daybreak they came to their father's house. They knocked at the door, and when their stepmother opened the door and saw them, she cried out,
"You wicked children! Why did you stay so long in the forest? We thought you meant never to come back."
But their father kissed and petted them, for he had been very sorry to leave his little boy and girl alone in the big forest. In a short time they were worse off than ever, and one night they again heard their mother trying to persuade her husband to take them out into the wood and lose them.
"There is nothing left in the house but half a loaf of bread," she said. "For our own sakes it is better to get rid of the children; but this time we will lead them farther away, so that they will not be able to find their way home."
But the man would not agree.
"Better to divide our last morsel with them," he said, "and then die together."
"No; we cannot do that. Whoever has said A must say B, too. What we have done once, we must do a second time."
Then his wife scolded him roundly, until at last the poor man gave way a second time, just as he had done at first.
The children, however, had overheard all that was said, and as soon as the mother and father were asleep, Hansel stole down to the door, meaning to go and collect pebbles as he had done before. The woman had locked the door that evening and Hansel could not get out, but he came cheerfully back to bed and said:
"Do not cry, little sister. Sleep in quiet. The good God will never forsake us."
Early the next morning the stepmother came and pulled them out of bed, and gave them each a slice of bread, which was still smaller than the former piece.
On the way Hansel broke his in his pocket, and, stopping every now and then, dropped a crumb upon the path.
"Hansel, why do you stop and look about?" said the father; "keep in the path."
"I am looking at my little dove," answered Hansel, "nodding a good-bye to me."
"Simpleton!" said the. wife, "that is no dove, but only the sun shining on the chimney."
But Hansel still kept dropping crumbs as he went along.
The mother led the children deep into the wood, where they had never been before, and there, making an immense fire, she said to them:
"Sit down here and rest, and when you feel tired you can sleep for a little while. We are going into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening, when we are ready, we will come and fetch you."
When noon came, Grethel shared her bread with Hansel, who had strewn his on the path. Then they went to sleep; but the evening arrived, and no one