There was once a poor man, who was a woodman, and went every day to cut wood in the forest. One day as he went along, he heard a cry like a little child′s: so he followed the sound, till at last he looked up a high tree, and on one of the branches sat a very little child. Now its mother had fallen asleep, and a vulture had taken it out of her lap and flown away with it, and left it on the tree. Then the woodcutter climbed up, took the little child down, and found it was a pretty little girl; and he said to himself, "I will take this poor child home, and bring her up with my own son Hansel." So he brought her to his cottage, and both grew up together: he called the little girl Grethel, and the two children were so very fond of each other that they were never happy but when they were together.
But the woodcutter became very poor, and had nothing in the world he could call his own; and indeed he had scarcely bread enough for his wife and the two children to eat. At last the time came when even that was all gone, and he knew not where to seek for help in his need. Then at night, as he lay on his bed, and turned himself here and there, restless and full of care, his wife said to him, " Husband, listen to me, and take the two children out early to-morrow morning; give each of them a piece of bread, and then lead them into the midst of the wood, where it is thickest, make a fire for them, and go away and leave them alone to shift for themselves, for we can no longer keep them here." "No, wife," said the husband, "I cannot find it in my heart to leave the children to the wild beasts of the forest; they would soon tear them to pieces." "Well, if you will not do as I say," answered the wife, "we must all starve together." And she would not let him have any peace until he came into her hard-hearted plan.
Meantime the poor children too were lying awake restless, and weak from hunger, so that they heard all that Hansel′s mother said to her husband. "Now," thought Grethel to herself, "it is all up with us": and she began to weep. But Hansel crept to her bedside, and said, "Do not be afraid, Grethel, I will find out some help for us." Then he got up, put on his jacket, and opened the door and went out.
The moon shone bright upon the little court before the cottage, and the white pebbles glittered like daisies on the green meadows. So he stooped down, and put as many as he could into his pocket, and then went back to the house.
"Now, Grethel," said he, "rest in peace!" and he went to bed and fell fast asleep.
Early in the morning, before the sun had risen, the woodman′s wife came and awoke them. "Get up, children," said she, "we are going into the wood; there is a piece of bread for each of you, but take care of it, and keep some for the afternoon." Grethel took the bread, and carried it in her apron, because Hansel had his pocket full of stones; and they made their way into the wood.
After they had walked on for a time, Hansel stood still and looked towards home; and after a while he turned again, and so on several times. Then his father said, "Hansel, why do you keep turning and lagging about so? move on a little faster." "Ah, father," answered Hansel, "I am stopping to look at my white cat, that sits on the roof, and wants to say good-bye to me." "You little fool!" said his mother, "that is not your cat; it is the morning sun shining on the chimney-top." Now Hansel had not been looking at the cat, but had all the while been lingering behind, to drop from his pocket one white pebble after another along the road.
When they came into the midst of the wood the woodman said, "Run about, children, and pick up some wood, and I will make a fire to keep us all warm." So they piled up a little heap of brushwood, and set it on fire; and as the flames burnt bright, the mother said, "Now set yourselves by the fire, and go to sleep, while we go and cut wood in the forest; be sure you wait till we come again and fetch you." Hansel and Grethel sat by the fireside till the afternoon, and then each of them ate their piece of bread. They fancied the woodman was still in the wood, because they thought they heard the blows of his axe; but it was a bough, which he had cunningly hung upon a tree, in such a way that the wind blew it backwards and forwards against the other boughs; and so it sounded as the axe does in cutting. Thus they waited till evening: but the woodman and his wife kept away, and no one came to fetch them.
When it was quite dark Grethel began to cry; but then Hansel said, "Wait awhile till the moon rises." And when the moon rose he took her by the hand, and there lay the pebbles along the ground, glittering like new pieces of money, and marking out the way. Towards morning they came again to the woodman′s house, and he was glad in his heart when he saw the children again, for he had grieved at leaving them alone. His wife also seemed to be glad; but in her heart she was angry at it.
Not long afterwards there was again no bread in the house, and Hansel and Grethel heard the wife say to her husband, "The children found their way back once, and I took it in good part; but now there is only half a loaf of bread left for them in the house; to-morrow you must take them deeper into the wood, that they may not find their way out, or we shall all be starved." It grieved the husband in his heart to do as his selfish wife wished, and he thought it would be better to share their last morsel with the children; but as he had done as she said once, he did not dare now to say no. When the children heard all their plan, Hansel got up, and wanted to pick up pebbles as before; but when he came to the door, he found his mother had locked it. Still he comforted Grethel, and said, "Sleep in peace, dear Grethel! God is very kind, and will help us."
Early in the morning, a piece of bread was given to each of them, but still smaller than the one they had before. Upon the road Hansel crumbled his in his pocket and often stood still, and threw a crumb upon the ground. "Why do you lag so behind, Hansel?" said the woodman; "go your ways on before." "I am looking at my little dove that is sitting upon the roof, and wants to say good-bye to me." "You silly boy!" said the wife, "that is not your little dove; it is the morning sun, that shines on the chimney-top." But Hansel still went on crumbling his bread, and throwing it on the ground. And thus they went on still further into the wood, where they had never been before in all their life.
There they were again told to sit down by a large fire, and go to sleep; and the woodman and his wife said they would come in the evening and fetch them away. In the afternoon Hansel shared Grethel′s bread, because he had strewed all his upon the road; but the day passed away, and evening passed away too, and no one came to the poor children. Still Hansel comforted Grethel, and said, "Wait till the moon rises; and then I shall be able to see the crumbs of bread which I have strewed, and they will show us the way home."
The moon rose; but when Hansel looked for the crumbs they were gone, for hundreds of little birds in the wood had found them and picked them up. Hansel, however, set out to try and find his way home; but they soon lost themselves in the wilderness, and went on through the night and all the next day, till at last they laid down and fell asleep for weariness. Another day they went on as before, but still did not come to the end of the wood; and they were as hungry as could be, for they had had nothing to eat.In the afternoon of the third day they came to a strange little hut, made of bread, with a roof of cake, and windows of barley-sugar. "Now we will sit down and eat till we have had enough," said Hansel; "I will eat off the roof for my share; do you eat the windows, Grethel, they will be nice and sweet for you." Whilst Grethel, however, was picking at the barley-sugar, a pretty voice called softly from within,
"Tip tap! who goes there?"
But the children answered,
"The wind, the wind,
That blows through the air!"
and went on eating. Now Grethel had broken out a round pane of the window for herself, and Hansel had torn off a large piece of cake from the roof, when the door opened, and a little old fairy came gliding out. At this Hansel and Grethel were so frightened, that they let fall what they had in their hands. But the old lady nodded to them, and said, "Dear children, where have you been wandering about? Come in with me; you shall have something good."
So she took them both by the hand, and led them into her little hut, and brought out plenty to eat, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts; and then two beautiful little beds were got ready, and Grethel and Hansel laid themselves down, and thought they were in heaven. But the fairy was a spiteful one, and made her pretty sweatmeat house to entrap little children. Early in the morning, before they were awake, she went to their little beds; and though she saw the two sleeping and looking so sweetly, she had no pity on them, but was glad they were in her power. Then she took up Hansel, and fastened him up in a coop by himself, and when he awoke he found himself behind a grating, shut up safely, as chickens are; but she shook Grethel, and called out, "Get up, you lazy little thing, and fetch some water; and go into the kitchen, and cook something good to eat: your brother is shut up yonder; I shall first fatten him, and when he is fat, I think I shall eat him."
When the fairy was gone poor Grethel watched her time, and got up, and ran to Hansel, and told him what she had heard, and said, "We must run away quickly, for the old woman is a bad fairy, and will kill us." But Hansel said, "You must first steal away her fairy wand, that we may save ourselves if she should follow; and bring the pipe too that hangs up in her room." Then the little maiden ran back, and fetched the magic wand and the pipe, and away they went together; so when the old fairy came back and could see no one at home, she sprang in a great rage to the window, and looked out into the wide world (which she could do far and near), and a long way off she spied Grethel, running away with her dear Hansel. "You are already a great way off," said she; "but you will still fall into my hands."
Then she put on her boots, which walked several miles at a step, and scarcely made two steps with them before she overtook the children; but Grethel saw that the fairy was coming after them, and, by the help of the wand, turned her friend Hansel into a lake of water, and herself into a swan, which swam about in the middle of it. So the fairy sat herself down on the shore, and took a great deal of trouble to decoy the swan, and threw crumbs of bread to it; but it would not come near her, and she was forced to go home in the evening without taking her revenge. Then Grethel changed herself and Hansel back into their own forms once more, and they went journeying on the whole night, until the dawn of day: and then the maiden turned herself into a beautiful rose, that grew in the midst of a quickset hedge; and Hansel sat by the side.
The fairy soon came striding along. "Good piper," said she, "may I pluck yon beautiful rose for myself?" "O yes," answered he. "And then," thought he to himself, "I will play you a tune meantime." So when she had crept into the hedge in a great hurry, to gather the flower for she well knew what it was, he pulled out the pipe slily, and began to play. Now the pipe was a fairy pipe, and, whether they liked it or not, whoever heard it was obliged to dance. So the old fairy was forced to dance a merry jig, on and on without any rest, and without being able to reach the rose. And as he did not cease playing a moment, the thorns at length tore the clothes from off her body, and pricked her sorely, and there she stuck quite fast.
Then Grethel set herself free once more, and on they went; but she grew very tired, and Hansel said, "Now I will hasten home for help." And Grethel said, "I will stay here in the meantime, and wait for you." Then Hansel went away, and Grethel was to wait for him.
But when Grethel had staid in the field a long time, and found he did not come back, she became quite sorrowful, and turned herself into a little daisy, and thought to herself, "Some one will come and tread me under foot, and so my sorrows will end." But it so happened that, as a shepherd was keeping watch in the field, he saw the daisy; and thinking it very pretty, he took it home, placed it in a box in his room, and said, "I have never found so pretty a daisy before." From that time everything throve wonderfully at the shepherd′s house. When he got up in the morning, all the household work was ready done; the room was swept and cleaned, the fire made, and the water fetched; and in the afternoon, when he came home, the table-cloth was laid, and a good dinner ready set for him. He could not make out how all this happened, for he saw no one in his house; and although it pleased him well enough, he was at length troubled to think how it could be, and went to a cunning woman who lived hard by, and asked her what he should do. She said, "There must be witchcraft in it; look out to-morrow morning early, and see if anything stirs about in the room: if it does, throw a white cloth at once over it, and then the witchcraft will be stopped." The shepherd did as she said, and the next morning saw the box open, and the daisy come out: then he sprang up quickly, and threw a white cloth over it: in an instant the spell was broken, and Grethel stood before him, for it was she who had taken care of his house for him; and she was so beautiful, that he asked her if she would marry him. She said, "No," because she wished to be faithful to her dear Hansel; but she agreed to stay, and keep house for him till Hansel came back.
Time passed on, and Hansel came back at last; for the spiteful fairy had led him astray, and he had not been able for a long time to find his way, either home or back to Grethel. Then he and Grethel set out to go home; but after travelling a long way, Grethel became tired, and she and Hansel laid themselves down to sleep in a fine old hollow tree that grew in a meadow by the side of the wood. But as they slept the fairy who had got out of the bush at last came by; and finding her wand was glad to lay hold of it, and at once turned poor Hansel into a fawn while he was asleep.
Soon after Grethel awoke, and found what had happened; and she wept bitterly over the poor creature; and the tears too rolled down his eyes, as he laid himself down beside her. Then she said, "Rest in peace, dear fawn; I will never, never leave thee." So she took off her golden necklace, and put it round his neck, and plucked some rushes, and plaited them into a soft string to fasten to it, and led the poor little thing by her side when she went to walk in the wood; and when they were tired they came back, and laid down to sleep by the side of the hollow tree, where they lodged at night: but nobody came near them except the little dwarfs that lived in the wood, and these watched over them while they were asleep.
At last one day they came to a little cottage; and Grethel having looked in, and seen that it was quite empty, thought to herself, "We can stay and live here." Then she went and gathered leaves and moss to make a soft bed for the fawn; and every morning she went out and plucked nuts, roots, and berries for herself, and sweet shrubs and tender grass for her friend; and it ate out of her hand, and was pleased, and played and frisked about her. In the evening, when Grethel was tired, and had said her prayers, she laid her head upon the fawn for her pillow, and slept; and if poor Hansel could but have his right form again, she thought they should lead a very happy life.
They lived thus a long while in the wood by themselves, till it chanced that the king of that country came to hold a great hunt there. And when the fawn heard all around the echoing of the horns, and the baying of the dogs, and the merry shouts of the huntsmen, he wished very much to go and see what was going on. "Ah, sister! sister!" said he, "let me go out into the wood, I can stay no longer." And he begged so long, that she at last agreed to let him go. "But," said she, "be sure to come to me in the evening; I shall shut up the door, to keep out those wild huntsmen; and if you tap at it and say, ′Sister, let me in!′ I shall know you: but if you don′t speak, I shall keep the door fast." Then away sprang the fawn, and frisked and bounded along in the open air. The king and his huntsmen saw the beautiful creature, and followed, but could not overtake him; for when they thought they were sure of their prize, he sprang over the bushes, and was out of sight at once.
As it grew dark he came running home to the hut and tapped, and said, "Sister, sister, let me in!" Then she opened the little door, and in he jumped, and slept soundly all night on his soft bed.
Next morning the hunt began again; and when he heard the huntsmen′s horns, he said, "Sister, open the door for me, I must go again." Then she let him out, and said, "Come back in the evening, and remember what you are to say." When the king and the huntsmen saw the fawn with the golden collar again, they gave him chase; but he was too quick for them. The chase lasted the whole day; but at last the huntsmen nearly surrounded him, and one of them wounded him in the foot, so that he became sadly lame, and could hardly crawl home. The man who had wounded him followed close behind, and hid himself, and heard the little fawn say, "Sister, sister, let me in!" upon which the door opened, and soon shut again. The huntsman marked all well, and went to the king and told him what he had seen and heard; then the king said, "To-morrow we will have another chase."
Grethel was very much frightened when she saw that her dear little fawn was wounded; but she washed the blood away, and put some healing herbs on it, and said, "Now go to bed, dear fawn, and you will soon be well again. The wound was so slight, that in the morning there was nothing to be seen of it; and when the horn blew, the little thing said, "I can′t stay here, I must go and look on; I will take care that none of them shall catch me." But Grethel said, U I am sure they will kill you this time: I will not let you go." "I shall die of grief," said he, "if you keep me here; when I hear the horns, I feel as if I could fly." Then Grethel was forced to let him go: so she opened the door with a heavy heart, and he bounded out gaily into the wood.
When the king saw him, he said to his huntsmen, "Now chase him all day long, till you catch him; but let none of you do him any harm." The sun set, however, without their being able to overtake him, and the king called away the huntsmen, and said to the one who had watched, "Now come and show me the little hut." So they went to the door and tapped, and said, "Sister, sister, let me in!" Then the door opened, and the king went in, and there stood a maiden more lovely than any he had ever seen. Grethel was frightened to see that it was not her fawn, but a king with a golden crown that was come into her hut: however, he spoke kindly to her, and took her hand, and said, "Will you come with me to my castle, and be my wife?" "Yes," said the maiden, "I will go to your castle, but I cannot be your wife; and my fawn must go with me, I cannot part with that." "Well," said the king, "he shall come and live with you all your life, and want for nothing." Just then in sprang the little fawn; and his sister tied the string to his neck, and they left the hut in the wood together.
Then the king took Grethel to his palace, and on the way she told him all her story: and then he sent for the fairy, and made her change the fawn into Hansel again; and he and Grethel loved one another, and were married, and lived happily together all their days in the good king′s palace.