Clever Gretel

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There was a cook whose name was Gretel. She wore shoes with red heels, and whenever she went out wearing them she would turn this way and that way, and she was very cheerful, thinking, "You are a beautiful girl!"

Then after returning home, because she was so happy, she would drink a swallow of wine, and the wine would give her an appetite, so she would taste the best of what she had cooked, until she was quite full, and then she would say, "The cook has to know how the food tastes."

One day her master said to her, "Gretel, this evening a guest is coming. Prepare two chickens for me, the best way that you can."

"Yes indeed, sir," answered Gretel. She killed the chickens, scalded them, plucked them, stuck them on the spit, and then, as evening approached, put them over the fire to roast. The chickens began to brown, and were nearly done, but the guest had not yet arrived.

Gretel called to her master, "If the guest doesn't come, I'll have to take the chickens from the fire. And it will be a crying shame if they're not eaten soon, because they're at their juicy best right now."

The master answered, "You're right. I'll run and fetch the guest myself."

As soon as the master had turned his back, Gretel set the spit and the chickens aside and thought, "Standing here by the fire has made me sweaty and thirsty. Who knows when they will be back? Meanwhile I'll just run down into the cellar and take a swallow."

So she ran down, lifted a jug to her lips, saying, "God bless it for you, Gretel!" and took a healthy drink. "Wine belongs together," she said further. "It's not good to keep it apart," and took another healthy drink.

Then she went and placed the chickens over the fire again, basted them with butter, and cheerfully turned the spit. Because the roasting chickens smelled so good, she thought, "They could be lacking something. I'd better taste them!" She tested them with her fingers, and said, "My, these chickens are good! It's a sin and a shame that they won't be eaten at once!"

She ran to the window to see if her master and his guest were arriving, but she saw no one. Returning to the chickens, she said, "That one wing is burning. I'd better just eat it." So she cut it off and ate it, and it tasted very good. When she had finished it, she thought, "I'd better eat the other one too, or the master will see that something is missing."

When both wings had been eaten, she once again looked for her master, but could not see him. Then it occurred to her, "Who knows? Perhaps they've gone somewhere else to eat and aren't coming here at all." Then she said, "Well, Gretel, be of good cheer! The one has already been cut into. Have another drink and eat the rest of it. When it's gone, you can relax. Why should this good gift of God go to waste?"

So she ran to the cellar once again, downed a noble drink, and cheerfully finished off the first chicken. When the one chicken was gone, and her master still had not yet returned, she looked at the other chicken and said, "Where the one is, the other should follow. The two belong together. What is right for the one, can't be wrong for the other. I believe that if I have another drink, it will do me no harm." So she took another hearty drink, and sent the second chicken running after the first one.

Just as she was making the most of it, her master returned, calling out, "Gretel, hurry up, the guest is right behind me."

"Yes, sir, I'm getting it ready," answered Gretel.

Meanwhile the master saw that the table was set, and he picked up the large knife that he wanted to carve the chickens with, and stood in the hallway sharpening it.

The guest arrived and knocked politely on the door. Gretel ran to see who it was, and when she saw that it was the guest, she held a finger before her mouth, and said, "Be quiet! Be quiet! Hurry and get away from here. If my master catches you, you'll be sorry. Yes, he invited you for an evening meal, but all he really wants is to cut off both of your ears. Listen, he's sharpening his knife for it right now."

The guest heard the whetting and ran back down the steps as fast as he could.

Then Gretel, who was not a bit lazy, ran to her master, crying, "Just what kind of a guest did you invite?"

"Why, Gretel? What do you mean by that?"

"Well," she said, "he took both of the chickens off the platter, just as I was about to carry them out, and then ran away with them."

"Now that's a fine tune!" said the master, feeling sorry about the loss of the good chickens. "At the least, he could have left one of them, so I would have something to eat."

He called out to him to stop, but the guest pretended not to hear. Then he ran after him, the knife still in his hand, shouting, "Just one! Just one!" But the guest could only think that he wanted him to give up one of his ears, so he ran as though there were a fire burning beneath him, in order to get home with both ears.

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Revised September 6, 2002.