(illustration by Otto Ubbelohde)
Hansel and Grethel (cont. again)
When it was mid-day, they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a bough, which sang so delightfully that they stood still and listened to it. And when it had finished its song, it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they followed it until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it alighted, and when they came quite up to the little house, they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear sugar.
"We will set to work on that," said Hansel, "and have a good meal. I will eat a bit of the roof, and thou, Grethel, canst eat some of the window, it will taste sweet."
Hansel reached up above and broke off a little of the roof to try how it tasted, and Grethel leant against the window and nibbled at the panes.
Then a soft voice cried from the room,
Nibble, nibble, gnaw,
Who is nibbling at my little house?
The children answered,
The wind, the wind,
The heaven-born wind,
and went on eating without disturbing themselves. Hansel, who thought the roof tasted very nice, tore down a great piece of it, and Grethel pushed out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyed herself with it.
Suddenly the door opened, and a very, very old woman, who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and Grethel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had in their hands.
The old woman, however, nodded her head and said, "Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here? Do come in and stay with me. No harm shall happen to you."
She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Grethel lay down in them and thought they were in heaven.
The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch who lay in wait for children and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her. Witches have red eyes and cannot see far, but they have a keen scent like the beasts and are aware when human beings draw near.
When Hansel and Grethel came into her neighborhood, she laughed maliciously and said mockingly, "I have them; they shall not escape me again!"
Early in the morning, before the children were awake, she was already up, and when she saw both of them sleeping and looking so pretty with their plump red cheeks, she muttered to herself, "That will be a dainty mouthful!"
Then she seized Hansel with her shrivelled hand, carried him into a little stable, and shut him in with a grated door. He might scream as he liked; that was of no use. Then she went to Grethel, shook her till she awoke, and cried, "Get up, lazy thing; fetch some water, and cook something good for thy brother — he is in the stable outside and is to be made fat. When he is fat, I will eat him."
Grethel began to weep bitterly, but it was all in vain; she was forced to do what the wicked witch ordered her.
And now the best food was cooked for poor Hansel, but Grethel got nothing but crab-shells. Every morning the woman crept to the little stable and cried, "Hansel, stretch out thy finger that I may feel if thou wilt soon be fat."
Hansel, however, stretched out a little bone to her, and the old woman, who had dim eyes, could not see it, and thought it was Hansel's finger, and was astonished that there was no way of fattening him. When four weeks had gone by, and Hansel still continued thin, she was seized with impatience and would not wait any longer.
"Hola, Grethel," she cried to the girl; "be active, and bring some water. Let Hansel be fat or lean; tomorrow I will kill him and cook him."
Ah, how the poor little sister did lament when she had to fetch the water and how her tears did flow down over her cheeks!
"Dear God, do help us," she cried. "If the wild beasts in the forest had but devoured us, we should at any rate have died together."
"Just keep thy noise to thyself," said the old woman; "all that won't help thee at all."
Next: Hansel and Grethel (end)