Laura Barrett On the edge of a great forest there lived a poor woodcutter with wife and his two children; the little boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel.
He had little enough to put in his belly, and once, when a great famine came upon the land, he could not even provide their daily bread. As he lay in bed one evening, brooding over this and tossing and turning with worry, he sighed and said to his wife: How can we feed our poor children when we've nothing left for ourselves? There we'll light them a fire and give each of them an extra piece of bread, then we'll go off to our work and leave them on their own.
They won't find their way back home, and we'll be rid of them. The two children had not been able to sleep for hunger either, and they had heard what their stepmother had said to their father. Gretel wept bitterly and said to Hansel: The moon was shining clear, and the white pebbles in front of the house were glistening as bright as pennies. Hansel stooped down and crammed his little pocket with as many as could fill them. Then he went back and said to Gretel: God won't forsake us," and lay down on his bed.
At daybreak, even before the sun had risen, the woman came and woke the two children. But mind you don't eat it before then, because you're not getting any more. Then they all made their way together towards the forest. After they had been walking for a little while Hansel stopped and looked back towards the house, and he did so over and over again. Why are you dawdling all the time? Watch out, my boy, and mind where you're going. When they had come to the middle of the forest their father said: I'll light a fire so that you don't get frozen.
The brushwood was lit, and when the flames rose high the woman said: We're going into the forest to cut wood. When we're finished we'll come back and fetch you. And because they heard the blows from the woodman's axe, they thought their father was nearby. But it wasn't the woodman's axe; it was a bough he had tied to a dead tree, blowing to and fro in the wind. And as they had been sitting for such a long time, their eyes closed with weariness and they fell fast asleep.
At last, when they woke, darkest night had fallen. Gretel began to cry, and said: They walked all through the night, and as day was dawning they arrived at their father's house. They knocked at the door, and when the wife opened it and saw that it was Hansel and Gretel, she said: We thought you would never come back.
Not long afterwards there came another time of hardship everywhere and the children heard what their mother was saying to their father in bed at night: After that, it's all finished. We have to get rid of the children. We'll take them deeper into the forest, so that they won't be able to find their way out; there's no saving us otherwise. But the woman would not listen to anything he said, and scolded and berated him.
But the children were still awake, and they had listened in to this conversation. When the grown-ups were asleep Hansel got up again and tried to go out and gather pebbles. But the woman had locked the door and Hansel could not get out. But he comforted his little sister, saying: They were given their bit of bread, but it was even smaller than the last time. On the way to the forest Hansel crumbled it up in his pocket, and kept stopping to drop a crumb on to the ground.
She's sitting on the roof and wants to say goodbye," answered Hansel. The children wander deeper into the forest. Laura Barrett The woman led the children still deeper into the forest, where they had never been before in their lives. Once again a big fire was lit, and their mother said: We're going into the forest to cut wood, and in the evening, when we're finished, we'll come and fetch you.
Then they fell asleep. Evening came and went, but no one came to fetch the poor children. They did not wake until it was dark night, and Hansel comforted his little sister and said: They'll show us the way home. Hansel said to Gretel: They walked the whole night long and the next day from morning to evening, but they couldn't get out of the forest, and they were so hungry, for they had eaten nothing but the few berries they had found lying on the ground.
And because they were so weary that their legs could no longer carry them, they lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep. And now three days had passed since they had left their father's house.
They began walking again, but only went deeper and deeper into the forest, and if help didn't come soon they were bound to die of hunger. When midday came they saw a lovely snow-white bird sitting on a bough and singing so beautifully that they stopped to listen. And when it had finished it spread its wings and flew ahead of them, and they followed it until they came to a little house, where it perched on the roof, and when they came quite close they saw that the house was made of bread and the roof was made of cake; as for the windows, they were made of pure sugar.
I'll eat a bit from the roof, and Gretel, you can eat some of the window, that'll taste sweet. Then a little voice called out from the parlour: Then all at once the door opened and an ancient woman, leaning on a crutch, came creeping out. Hansel and Gretel were so dreadfully frightened that they dropped what they were holding in their hands. But the old woman shook her head and said: Come right in and stay with me.
You won't come to any harm. There was good food on the table, milk and pancakes with sugar, and apples and nuts. Afterwards there were two lovely little beds with white sheets, and Hansel and Gretel lay down in them and thought they were in heaven. The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was really a wicked witch who lay in wait for children, and she had only built the little bread house to lure them to her.
If one of them fell into her clutches she would kill him, cook him, and eat him, and to her that was a proper feast day. Witches have bloodshot eyes and they can't see very far, but they have a very fine sense of smell, like the animals, and they can tell when human children come their way. When Hansel and Gretel drew near her, she laughed spitefully and said, gloating: They shan't escape me again.
Then she went up to Gretel, shook her awake, and cried: He's locked in the pen outside and has to be fattened up. When he's nice and fat, I'll eat him. Now poor Hansel had the very best meals cooked for him, but Gretel got nothing but the shells from the crayfish. Every morning the old woman stole to the little stable and called: When four weeks had gone by and Hansel still remained bony, she was overcome by impatience and wouldn't wait any longer.
But Gretel saw what she had in mind and said: How do I get inside? As you can see, I can get in myself. Then Gretel gave her a shove so that she was pushed far inside, shut the iron door fast, and fastened the bolt.
Oh, then she began to howl, enough to make your flesh creep; but Gretel ran off, and the godless witch burned miserably to death. Gretel, though, ran straight off to Hansel, opened his little pen, and called: How glad they were, they hugged each other, and skipped about and kissed! And because they need be afraid no longer they went into the witch's house, and in every corner there stood chests full of pearls and precious stones. We can't get across," said Hansel, "I can't see a footway, nor a bridge.
If I ask her, she'll help us to get over. Laura Barrett Here are Gretel and Hansel. No bridge and no track, Let us ride on your white back. Hansel sat on her back and told his sister to sit by him. She can carry us over one by one. Then they began to run, burst into the parlour, and flung their arms about their father's neck. The man had not had a glad hour since he had abandoned the children in the forest; as for his wife, she had died.
Gretel shook out her little apron so that the pearls and precious stones leapt about in the parlour, and Hansel threw one handful after another from his pockets as well. Then all their cares were at an end and they lived in sheer joy together.
See a mouse run.