borders of a large
forest dwelt in olden times a poor wood-cutter, who had two children a
boy named Hansel, and his sister, Grethel. They had very little to live
upon, and once when there was a dreadful season of scarcity in the
the poor wood-cutter could not earn sufficient to supply their daily
evening, after the children
were gone to bed, the parents sat talking together over their sorrow,
the poor husband sighed, and said to his wife, who was not the mother
his children, but their stepmother, "What will become of us, for I
earn enough to support myself and you, much less the children? what
we do with them, for they must not starve?"
what to do, husband,"
she replied; "early to-morrow morning we will take the children for a
across the forest and leave them in the thickest part; they will never
find the way home again, you may depend, and then we shall only have to
work for ourselves."
said the man,
"that I will never do. How could I have the heart to leave my children
all alone in the wood, where the wild beasts would come quickly and
fool," replied the
stepmother, "if you refuse to do this, you know we must all four perish
with hunger; you may as well go and cut the wood for our coffins." And
after this she let him have no peace till he became quite worn out, and
could not sleep for hours, but lay thinking in sorrow about his
children, who also
were too hungry to sleep, heard all that their stepmother had said to
father. Poor little Grethel wept bitter tears as she listened, and said
to her brother, "What is going to happen to us, Hansel?"
Grethel," he whispered,
"don't be so unhappy; I know what to do."
lay quite still
till their parents were asleep.
As soon as
it was quiet,
Hansel got up, put on his little coat, unfastened the door, and slipped
out The moon shone brightly, and the white pebble stones which lay
the cottage door glistened like new silver money. Hansel stooped and
up as many of the pebbles as he could stuff in his little coat pockets.
He then went back to Grethel and said, "Be comforted, dear little
and sleep in peace; heaven will take care of us." Then he laid himself
down again in bed, and slept till the day broke.
As soon as
the sun was risen,
the stepmother came and woke the two children, and said, "Get up, you
bones, and come into the wood with me to gather wood for the fire."
she gave each of them a piece of bread, and said, "You must keep that
eat for your dinner, and don't quarrel over it, for you will get
took the bread under
her charge, for Hansel's pockets were full of pebbles. Then the
led them a long way into the forest. They had gone but a very short
when Hansel looked back at the house, and this he did again and again.
At last his
"Why do you keep staying behind and looking back so?"
mother," said the boy,
"I can see my little white cat sitting on the roof of the house, and I
am sure she is crying for me."
"that is not your cat; it is the morning sun shining on the
seen no cat, but
he stayed behind every time to drop a white pebble from his pocket on
ground as they walked.
As soon as
they reached a
thick part of the wood, their stepmother said:
children, gather some
wood, and I will make a fire, for it is very cold here."
and Grethel raised
quite a high heap of brushwood and faggots, which soon blazed up into a
bright fire, and the woman said to them:
and rest, while I go and find your father, who is cutting wood in the
when we have finished our work, we will come again and fetch you."
themselves by the fire, and when noon arrived they each ate the piece
bread which their stepmother had given them for their dinner; and as
as they heard the strokes of the axe they felt safe, for they believed
that their father was working near them. But it was not an axe they
a branch which still hung on a withered tree, and was moved up and down
by the wind. At last, when they had been sitting there a long time, the
children's eyes became heavy with fatigue, and they fell fast asleep.
they awoke it was dark night, and poor Grethel began to cry, and said,
"Oh, how shall we get out of the wood?"
"Don't fear," he said; "let us wait a little while till the moon rises,
and then we shall easily find our way home."
the full moon rose,
and then Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and the white
stones, which glittered like newly-coined money in the moonlight, and
Hansel had dropped as he walked, pointed out the way. They walked all
night through, and did not reach their father's house till break of day.
knocked at the door,
and when their stepmother opened it, she exclaimed: "You naughty
why have you been staying so long in the forest? we thought you were
coming back," But their father was overjoyed to see them, for it
him to the heart to think that they had been left alone in the wood.
after this there
came another time of scarcity and want in every house, and the children
heard their stepmother talking after they were in bed. "The times are
bad as ever," she said; "we have just half a loaf left, and when that
gone all love will be at an end. The children must go away; we will
them deeper into the forest this time, and they will not be able to
their way home as they did before; it is the only plan to save
from starvation." But the husband felt heavy at heart, for he thought
was better to share the last morsel with his children.
would listen to
nothing he said, but continued to reproach him, and as he had given way
to her the first time, he could not refuse to do so now. The children
awake, and heard all the conversation; so, as soon as their parents
Hansel got up, intending to go out and gather some more of the bright
to let fall as he walked, that they might point out the way home; but
stepmother had locked the door, and he could not open it. When he went
back to his bed he told his little sister not to fret, but to go to
in peace, for he was sure they would be taken care of.
next morning the
stepmother came and pulled the children out of bed, and, when they were
dressed, gave them each a piece of bread for their dinners, smaller
they had had before, and then they started on their way to the wood.
walked, Hansel, who
had the bread in his pocket, broke off little crumbs, and stopped every
now and then to drop one, turning round as if he was looking back at
said the woman,
"what are you stopping for in that way? Come along directly."
"I saw my
on the roof, and he wants to say good-bye to me," replied the boy.
she said; "that
is not your pigeon; it is only the morning sun shining on the
did not look back
any more; he only dropped pieces of bread behind him, as they walked
the wood. This time they went on till they reached the thickest and
part of the forest, where they had never been before in all their
Again they gathered faggots and brushwood, of which the stepmother made
up a large fire. Then she said, "Remain here, children, and rest, while
I go to help your father, who is cutting wood in the forest; when you
tired, you can lie down and sleep for a little while, and we will come
and fetch you in the evening, when your father has finished his work."
alone till mid-day, and then Grethel shared her piece of bread with
for he had scattered his own all along the road as they walked. After
they slept for awhile, and the evening drew on; but no one came to
the poor children. When they awoke it was quite dark, and poor little
was afraid; but Hansel comforted her, as he had done before, by telling
her they need only wait till the moon rose. "You know, little sister,"
he said, "that I have thrown breadcrumbs all along the road we came,
they will easily point out the way home."
they went out of
the thicket into the moonlight they found no breadcrumbs, for the
birds which inhabited the trees of the forest had picked them all up.
tried to hide his
fear when he made this sad discovery, and said to his sister, "Cheer
Grethel; I dare say we shall find our way home without the crumbs. Let
us try." But this they found impossible. They wandered about the whole
night, and the next day from morning till evening; but they could not
out of the wood, and were so hungry that had it not been for a few
which they picked they must have starved.
they were so tired
that their poor little legs could carry them no farther; so they laid
down under a tree and went to sleep. When they awoke it was the third
since they had left their father's house, and they determined to try
more to find their way home; but it was no use, they only went still
into the wood, and knew that if no help came they must starve.
they saw a beautiful
snow-white bird sitting on the branch of a tree, and singing so
that they stood still to listen. When he had finished his song, he
out his wings and flew on before them. The children followed him, till
at last they saw at a distance a small house; and the bird flew and
on the roof.
surprised were the
boy and girl, when they came nearer, to find that the house was built
gingerbread, and ornamented with sweet cakes and tarts, while the
was formed of barley-sugar. "Oh!" exclaimed Hansel, "let us stop here
have a splendid feast. I will have a piece from the roof first,
and you can eat some of the barley-sugar window, it tastes so nice."
reached up on tiptoe, and breaking off a piece of the gingerbread, he
to eat with all his might, for he was very hungry. Grethel seated
on the doorstep, and began munching away at the cakes of which it was
Presently a voice came out of the cottage:
up my house?"
answered the children:
"The wind, the
and went on
eating as if
they never meant to leave off, without a suspicion of wrong. Hansel,
found the cake on the roof taste very good, broke off another large
and Grethel had just taken out a whole pane of barley-sugar from the
and seated herself to eat it, when the door opened, and a
old woman came out leaning on a stick.
Grethel were so
frightened that they let fall what they held in their hands. The old
shook her head at them, and said, "Ah, you dear children, who has
you here? Come in, and stay with me for a little while, and there shall
no harm happen to you." She seized them both by the hands as she spoke,
and led them into the house. She gave them for supper plenty to eat and
drink—milk and pancakes and sugar, apples and nuts; and when evening
Hansel and Grethel were shown two beautiful little beds with white
and they lay down in them and thought they were in heaven.
although the old woman
pretended to be friendly, she was a wicked witch, who had her house
of gingerbread on purpose to entrap children. When once they were in
power, she would feed them well till they got fat, and then kill them
cook them for her dinner; and this she called her feast-day.
the witch had weak eyes, and could not see very well; but she had a
keen scent, as wild animals have, and could easily discover when human
beings were near. As Hansel and Grethel had approached her cottage, she
laughed to herself maliciously, and said, with a sneer: "I have them
they shall not escape from me again!"
the morning, before
the children were awake, she was up, standing by their beds; and when
saw how beautiful they looked in their sleep, with their round rosy
she muttered to herself, "What nice tit-bits they will be!" Then she
hold of Hansel with her rough hand, dragged him out of bed, and led him
to a little cage which had a lattice-door, and shut him in; he might
as much as he would, but it was all useless.
she went back
to Grethel, and, shaking her roughly till she woke, cried: "Get up, you
lazy hussy, and draw some water, that I may boil something good for
brother, who is shut up in a cage outside till he gets fat; and then I
shall cook him and eat him!" When Grethel heard this she began to cry
but it was all useless, she was obliged to do as the wicked witch told
the best of everything was cooked; but Grethel had nothing for herself
but a crab's claw. Every morning the old woman would go out to the
cage, and say: "Hansel, stick out your finger, that I may feel if you
fat enough for eating." But Hansel, who knew how dim her old eyes were,
always stuck a bone through the bars of his cage, which she thought was
his finger, for she could not see; and when she felt how thin it was,
wondered very much why he did not get fat.
the weeks went
on, and Hansel seemed not to get any fatter, she became impatient, and
said she could not wait any longer. "Go, Grethel," she cried to the
"be quick and draw water; Hansel may be fat or lean, I don't care,
morning I mean to kill him, and cook him!"
Oh! how the
poor little sister
grieved when she was forced to draw the water; and, as the tears rolled
down her cheeks, she exclaimed: "It would have been better to be eaten
by wild beasts, or to have been starved to death in the woods; then we
should have died together!"
the old woman; "it is not of the least use, no one will come to help
the morning Grethel
was obliged to go out and fill the great pot with water, and hang it
the fire to boil. As soon as this was done, the old woman said, "We
bake some bread first; I have made the oven hot, and the dough is
kneaded." Then she dragged poor little Grethel up to the oven door,
which the flames were burning fiercely, and said: "Creep in there, and
see if it is hot enough yet to bake the bread." But if Grethel had
her, she would have shut the poor child in and baked her for dinner,
of boiling Hansel.
what she wanted to do, and said, "I don't know how to get in through
goose," said the
old woman, "why, the oven door is quite large enough for me; just look,
I could get in myself." As she spoke she stepped forward and pretended
to put her head in the oven.
thought gave Grethel
unusual strength; she started forward, gave the old woman a push which
sent her right into the oven, then she shut the iron door and fastened
Oh! how the
old witch did
howl, it was quite horrible to hear her. But Grethel ran away, and
she was left to burn, just as she had left many poor little children to
burn. And how quickly Grethel ran to Hansel, opened the door of his
and cried, "Hansel, Hansel, we are free; the old witch is dead." He
like a bird out of his cage at these words as soon as the door was
and the children were so overjoyed that they ran into each other's
and kissed each other with the greatest love.
that there was nothing
to be afraid of, they went back into the house, and while looking round
the old witch's room, they saw an old oak chest, which they opened, and
found it full of pearls and precious stones. "These are better than
said Hansel; and he filled his pockets as full as they would hold.
carry some home too,"
said Grethel, and she held out her apron, which held quite as much as
"We will go
now," he said,
"and get away as soon as we can from this enchanted forest."
been walking for
nearly two hours when they came to a large sheet of water.
we do now?" said
the boy. "We cannot get across, and there is no bridge of any sort."
comes a boat,"
cried Grethel, but she was mistaken; it was only a white duck which
swimming towards the children. "Perhaps she will help us across if we
her," said the child; and she sung, "Little duck, do help poor Hansel
Grethel; there is not a bridge, nor a boat—will you let us sail across
on your white back?"
good-natured duck came
near the bank as Grethel spoke, so close indeed that Hansel could seat
himself and wanted to take his little sister on his lap, but she said,
"No, we shall be too heavy for the kind duck; let her take us over one
at a time."
creature did as
the children wished; she carried Grethel over first, and then came back
for Hansel. And then how happy the children were to find themselves in
a part of the wood which they remembered quite well, and as they walked
on, the more familiar it became, till at last they caught sight of
father's house. Then they began to run, and, bursting into the room,
themselves into their father's arms.
he had not had
a moment's peace since the children had been left alone in the forest;
he was full of joy at finding them safe and well again, and now they
nothing to fear, for their wicked stepmother was dead.
surprised the poor
wood-cutter was when Grethel opened and shook her little apron to see
glittering pearls and precious stones scattered about the room, while
drew handful after handful from his pockets. From this moment all his
and sorrow was at an end, and the father lived in happiness with his
till his death.