and other folktales of
Aarne-Thompson-Uther types 327, 327A, 327B, and 327C
about abandoned children
D. L. Ashliman
Next to a great forest there lived a poor woodcutter with his wife and his two children. The boy's name was Hansel and the girl's name was Gretel. He had but little to eat, and once, when a great famine came to the land, he could no longer provide even their daily bread.
One evening as he was lying in bed worrying about his problems, he sighed and said to his wife, "What is to become of us? How can we feed our children when we have nothing for ourselves?"
"Man, do you know what?" answered the woman. "Early tomorrow morning we will take the two children out into the thickest part of the woods, make a fire for them, and give each of them a little piece of bread, then leave them by themselves and go off to our work. They will not find their way back home, and we will be rid of them."
"No, woman," said the man. "I will not do that. How could I bring myself to abandon my own children alone in the woods? Wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces."
"Oh, you fool," she said, "then all four of us will starve. All you can do is to plane the boards for our coffins." And she gave him no peace until he agreed.
"But I do feel sorry for the poor children," said the man.
The two children had not been able to fall asleep because of their hunger, and they heard what the stepmother had said to the father.
Gretel cried bitter tears and said to Hansel, "It is over with us!"
"Be quiet, Gretel," said Hansel, "and don't worry. I know what to do."
And as soon as the adults had fallen asleep, he got up, pulled on his jacket, opened the lower door, and crept outside. The moon was shining brightly, and the white pebbles in front of the house were glistening like silver coins. Hansel bent over and filled his jacket pockets with them, as many as would fit.
Then he went back into the house and said, "Don't worry, Gretel. Sleep well. God will not forsake us." Then he went back to bed.
At daybreak, even before sunrise, the woman came and woke the two children. "Get up, you lazybones. We are going into the woods to fetch wood." Then she gave each one a little piece of bread, saying, "Here is something for midday. Don't eat it any sooner, for you'll not get any more."
Gretel put the bread under her apron, because Hansel's pockets were full of stones. Then all together they set forth into the woods. After they had walked a little way, Hansel began stopping again and again and looking back toward the house.
The father said, "Hansel, why are you stopping and looking back? Pay attention now, and don't forget your legs."
"Oh, father," said Hansel, "I am looking at my white cat that is sitting on the roof and wants to say good-bye to me."
The woman said, "You fool, that isn't your cat. That's the morning sun shining on the chimney."
However, Hansel had not been looking at his cat but instead had been dropping the shiny pebbles from his pocket onto the path.
When they arrived in the middle of the woods, the father said, "You children gather some wood, and I will make a fire so you won't freeze."
Hansel and Gretel gathered together some twigs, a pile as high as a small mountain
The twigs were set afire, and when the flames were burning well, the woman said, "Lie down by the fire and rest. We will go into the woods to cut wood. When we are finished, we will come back and get you."
Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire. When midday came each one ate his little piece of bread. Because they could hear the blows of an ax, they thought that the father was nearby. However, it was not an ax. It was a branch that he had tied to a dead tree and that the wind was beating back and forth. After they had sat there a long time, their eyes grew weary and closed, and they fell sound sleep.
When they finally awoke, it was dark at night. Gretel began to cry and said, "How will we get out of woods?"
Hansel comforted her, "Wait a little until the moon comes up, and then we'll find the way."
After the full moon had come up, Hansel took his little sister by the hand. They followed the pebbles that glistened there like newly minted coins, showing them the way. They walked throughout the entire night, and as morning was breaking, they arrived at the father's house.
They knocked on the door, and when the woman opened it and saw that it was Hansel and Gretel, she said, "You wicked children, why did you sleep so long in the woods? We thought that you did not want to come back."
But the father was overjoyed when he saw his children once more, for he had not wanted to leave them alone.
Not long afterward there was once again great need everywhere, and one evening the children heard the mother say to the father, "We have again eaten up everything. We have only a half loaf of bread, and then the song will be over. We must get rid of the children. We will take them deeper into the woods, so they will not find their way out. Otherwise there will be no help for us."
The man was very disheartened, and he thought, "It would be better to share the last bit with the children."
But the woman would not listen to him, scolded him, and criticized him. He who says A must also say B, and because he had given in the first time, he had to do so the second time as well.
The children were still awake and had overheard the conversation. When the adults were asleep, Hansel got up again and wanted to gather pebbles as he had done before, but the woman had locked the door, and Hansel could not get out. But he comforted his little sister and said, "Don't cry, Gretel. Sleep well. God will help us."
Early the next morning the woman came and got the children from their beds. They received their little pieces of bread, even less than the last time. On the way to the woods, Hansel crumbled his piece in his pocket, then often stood still, and threw crumbs onto the ground.
"Hansel, why are you always stopping and looking around?" said his father. "Keep walking straight ahead."
"I can see my pigeon sitting on the roof. It wants to say good-bye to me."
"Fool," said the woman, "that isn't your pigeon. That's the morning sun shining on the chimney."
But little by little Hansel dropped all the crumbs onto the path. The woman took them deeper into the woods than they had ever been in their whole lifetime.
Once again a large fire was made, and the mother said, "Sit here, children. If you get tired you can sleep a little. We are going into the woods to cut wood. We will come and get you in the evening when we are finished."
When it was midday Gretel shared her bread with Hansel, who had scattered his piece along the path. Then they fell asleep, and evening passed, but no one came to get the poor children.
It was dark at night when they awoke, and Hansel comforted Gretel and said, "Wait, when the moon comes up I will be able to see the crumbs of bread that I scattered, and they will show us the way back home."
When the moon appeared they got up, but they could not find any crumbs, for the many thousands of birds that fly about in the woods and in the fields had pecked them up.
Hansel said to Gretel, "We will find our way," but they did not find it.
They walked through the entire night and the next day from morning until evening, but they did not find their way out of the woods. They were terribly hungry, for they had eaten only a few small berries that were growing on the ground. And because they were so tired that their legs would no longer carry them, they lay down under a tree and fell asleep. It was already the third morning since they had left the father's house. They started walking again, but managed only to go deeper and deeper into the woods. If help did not come soon, they would perish. At midday they saw a little snow-white bird sitting on a branch. It sang so beautifully that they stopped to listen. When it was finished it stretched its wings and flew in front of them. They followed it until they came to a little house. The bird sat on the roof, and when they came closer, they saw that the little house was built entirely from bread with a roof made of cake, and the windows were made of clear sugar.
"Let's help ourselves to a good meal," said Hansel. "I'll eat a piece of the roof, and Gretel, you eat from the window. That will be sweet."
Hansel reached up and broke off a little of the roof to see how it tasted, while Gretel stood next to the windowpanes and was nibbling at them. Then a gentle voice called out from inside:
Nibble, nibble, little mouse,The children answered:
Who is nibbling at my house?
The wind, the wind,They continued to eat, without being distracted. Hansel, who very much like the taste of the roof, tore down another large piece, and Gretel poked out an entire round windowpane. Suddenly the door opened, and a woman, as old as the hills and leaning on a crutch, came creeping out. Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they dropped what they were holding in their hands.
The heavenly child.
But the old woman shook her head and said, "Oh, you dear children, who brought you here? Just come in and stay with me. No harm will come to you."
She took them by the hand and led them into her house. Then she served them a good meal: milk and pancakes with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterward she made two nice beds for them, decked in white. Hansel and Gretel went to bed, thinking they were in heaven. But the old woman had only pretended to be friendly. She was a wicked witch who was lying in wait there for children. She had built her house of bread only in order to lure them to her, and if she captured one, she would kill him, cook him, and eat him; and for her that was a day to celebrate.
Witches have red eyes and cannot see very far, but they have a sense of smell like animals, and know when humans are approaching.
When Hansel and Gretel came near to her, she laughed wickedly and spoke scornfully, "Now I have them. They will not get away from me again."
Early the next morning, before they awoke, she got up, went to their beds, and looked at the two of them lying there so peacefully, with their full red cheeks. "They will be a good mouthful," she mumbled to herself. Then she grabbed Hansel with her withered hand and carried him to a little stall, where she locked him behind a cage door. Cry as he might, there was no help for him.
Then she shook Gretel and cried, "Get up, lazybones! Fetch water and cook something good for your brother. He is locked outside in the stall and is to be fattened up. When he is fat I am going to eat him."
Gretel began to cry, but it was all for nothing. She had to do what the witch demanded. Now Hansel was given the best things to eat every day, but Gretel received nothing but crayfish shells.
Every morning the old woman crept out to the stall and shouted, "Hansel, stick out your finger, so I can feel if you are fat yet."
But Hansel stuck out a little bone, and the old woman, who had bad eyes and could not see the bone, thought it was Hansel's finger, and she wondered why he didn't get fat.
When four weeks had passed and Hansel was still thin, impatience overcame her, and she would wait no longer. "Hey, Gretel!" she shouted to the girl, "Hurry up and fetch some water. Whether Hansel is fat or thin, tomorrow I am going to slaughter him and boil him."
Oh, how the poor little sister sobbed as she was forced to carry the water, and how the tears streamed down her cheeks! "Dear God, please help us," she cried. "If only the wild animals had devoured us in the woods, then we would have died together."
"Save your slobbering," said the old woman. "It doesn't help you at all."
The next morning Gretel had to get up early, hang up the kettle with water, and make a fire.
"First we are going to bake," said the old woman. "I have already made a fire in the oven and kneaded the dough."
She pushed poor Gretel outside to the oven, from which fiery flames were leaping. "Climb in," said the witch, "and see if it is hot enough to put the bread in yet." And when Gretel was inside, she intended to close the oven, and bake her, and eat her as well.
But Gretel saw what she had in mind, so she said, "I don't know how to do that. How can I get inside?"
"Stupid goose," said the old woman. The opening is big enough. See, I myself could get in." And she crawled up stuck her head into the oven.
Then Gretel gave her a shove, causing her to fall in. Then she closed the iron door and secured it with a bar. The old woman began to howl frightfully. But Gretel ran away, and the godless witch burned up miserably. Gretel ran straight to Hansel, unlocked his stall, and cried, "Hansel, we are saved. The old witch is dead."
Then Hansel jumped out, like a bird from its cage when someone opens its door. How happy they were! They threw their arms around each other's necks, jumped with joy, and kissed one another. Because they now had nothing to fear, they went into the witch's house. In every corner were chests of pearls and precious stones.
"These are better than pebbles," said Hansel, filling his pockets.
Gretel said, "I will take some home with me as well," and she filled her apron full.
"But now we must leave," said Hansel, "and get out of these witch-woods."
After walking a few hours they arrived at a large body of water. "We cannot get across," said Hansel. "I cannot see a walkway or a bridge."
"There are no boats here," answered Gretel, "but there is a white duck swimming. If I ask it, it will help us across."
Then she called out:
Duckling, duckling,The duckling came up to them, and Hansel climbed onto it, then asked his little sister to sit down next to him.
Here stand Gretel and Hansel.
Neither a walkway nor a bridge,
Take us onto your white back.
"No," answered Gretel. "That would be too heavy for the duckling. It should take us across one at a time."
That is what the good animal did, and when they were safely on the other side, and had walked on a little while, the woods grew more and more familiar to them, and finally they saw the father's house in the distance. They began to run, rushed inside, and threw their arms around the father's neck.
The man had not had even one happy hour since he had left the children in the woods. However, the woman had died. Gretel shook out her apron, scattering pearls and precious stones around the room, and Hansel added to them by throwing one handful after the other from his pockets.
Now all their cares were at an end, and they lived happily together.
My tale is done,And whoever catches it can make for himself from it a large, large fur cap.
A mouse has run.
There was once a good man named Jannuccio, who had two children, Nennillo and Nennella, whom he loved as much as his own life. But Death having, with the smooth file of Time, severed the prison bars of his wife's soul, he took to himself a cruel woman, who had no sooner set foot in his house than she began to ride the high horse, saying, "Am I come here indeed to look after other folk's children? A pretty job I have undertaken, to have all this trouble and be for ever teased by a couple of squalling brats! Would that I had broken my neck ere I ever came to this place, to have bad food, worse drink, and get no sleep at night! Here's a life to lead! Forsooth I came as a wife, and not as a servant; but I must find some means of getting rid of these creatures, or it will cost me my life: better to blush once than to grow pale a hundred times; so I've done with them, for I am resolved to send them away, or to leave the house myself forever."
The poor husband, who had some affection for this woman, said to her, "Softly, wife! Don't be angry, for sugar is dear; and tomorrow morning, before the cock crows, I will remove this annoyance in order to please you."
So the next morning, ere the Dawn had hung out the red counterpane at the window of the East to air it, Jannuccio took the children, one by each hand, and with a good basketful of things to eat upon his arm, he led them to a wood, where an army of poplars and beech trees were holding the shades besieged.
Then Jannuccio said, "My little children, stay here in this wood, and eat and drink merrily; but if you want anything, follow this line of ashes which I have been strewing as we came along; this will be a clue to lead you out of the labyrinth and bring you straight home."
Then giving them both a kiss, he returned weeping to his house. But at the hour when all creatures, summoned by the constables of Night, pay to Nature the tax of needful repose, the two children began to feel afraid at remaining in that lonesome place, where the waters of a river, which was thrashing the impertinent stones for obstructing its course, would have frightened even a hero. So they went slowly along the path of ashes, and it was already midnight ere they reached their home.
When Pascozza, their stepmother, saw the children, she acted not like a woman, but a perfect fury; crying aloud, wringing her hands, stamping with her feet, snorting like a frightened horse, and exclaiming, "What fine piece of work is this? Is there no way of ridding the house of these creatures? Is it possible, husband, that you are determined to keep them here to plague my very life out? Go, take them out of my sight! I'll not wait for the crowing of cocks and the cackling of hens; or else be assured that tomorrow morning I'll go off to my parents' house, for you do not deserve me. I have not brought you so many fine things, only to be made the slave of children who are not my own."
Poor Jannuccio, who saw that matters were growing rather too warm, immediately took the little ones and returned to the wood; where giving the children another basketful of food, he said to them, "You see, my dears, how this wife of mine -- who is come to my house to be your ruin and a nail in my heart -- hates you; therefore remain in this wood, where the trees, more compassionate, will give you shelter from the sun; where the river, more charitable, will give you drink without poison; and the earth, more kind, will give you a pillow of grass without danger. And when you want food, follow this little path of bran which I have made for you in a straight line, and you can come and seek what you require."
So saying, he turned away his face, not to let himself be seen to weep and dishearten the poor little creatures.
When Nennillo and Nennella had eaten all that was in the basket, they wanted to return home; but alas! a jackass -- the son of ill-luck -- had eaten up all the bran that was strewn upon the ground; so they lost their way, and wandered about forlorn in the wood for several days, feeding on acorns and chestnuts which they found fallen on the ground.
But as Heaven always extends its arm over the innocent, there came by chance a prince to hunt in that wood. Then Nennillo, hearing the baying of the hounds, was so frightened that he crept into a hollow tree; and Nennella set off running at full speed, and ran until she came out of the wood, and found herself on the seashore. Now it happened that some pirates, who had landed there to get fuel, saw Nennella and carried her off; and their captain took her home with him where he and his wife, having just lost a little girl, took her as their daughter.
Meantime Nennillo, who had hidden himself in the tree, was surrounded by the dogs, which made such a furious barking that the prince sent to find out the cause; and when he discovered the pretty little boy, who was so young that he could not tell who were his father and mother, he ordered one of the huntsmen to set him upon his saddle and take him to the royal palace. Then he had him brought up with great care, and instructed in various arts, and among others, he had him taught that of a carver; so that, before three or four years had passed, Nennillo became so expert in his art that he could carve a joint to a hair.
Now about this time it was discovered that the captain of the ship who had taken Nennella to his house was a sea-robber, and the people wished to take him prisoner; but getting timely notice from the clerks in the law courts, who were his friends, and whom he kept in his pay, he fled with all his family. It was decreed, however, perhaps by the judgment of Heaven, that he who had committed his crimes upon the sea, upon the sea should suffer the punishment of them; for having embarked in a small boat, no sooner was he upon the open sea than there came such a storm of wind and tumult of the waves, that the boat was upset and all were drowned, all except Nennella, who having had no share in the corsair's robberies, like his wife and children, escaped the danger; for just then a large enchanted fish, which was swimming about the boat, opened its huge throat and swallowed her down.
The little girl now thought to herself that her days were surely at an end, when suddenly she found a thing to amaze her inside the fish: beautiful fields and fine gardens, and a splendid mansion, with all that heart could desire, in which she lived like a princess. Then she was carried quickly by the fish to a rock, where it chanced that the prince had come to escape the burning heat of a summer, and to enjoy the cool sea breezes. And whilst a great banquet was preparing, Nennillo had stepped out upon a balcony of the palace on the rock to sharpen some knives, priding himself greatly on acquiring honor from his office. When Nennella saw him through the fish's throat, she cried aloud,
Brother, brother, your task is done,Nennillo at first paid no attention to the voice, but the prince, who was standing on another balcony and had also heard it, turned in the direction whence the sound came, and saw the fish. And when he again heard the same words, he was beside himself with amazement, and ordered a number of servants to try whether by any means they could ensnare the fish and draw it to land.
The tables are laid out every one;
But here in the fish I must sit and sigh,
Oh brother, without you I soon shall die.
At last, hearing the words "Brother, brother!" continually repeated, he asked all his servants, one by one, whether any of them had lost a sister. And Nennillo replied, that he recollected, as a dream, having had a sister when the prince found him in the wood, but that he had never since heard any tidings of her. Then the prince told him to go nearer to the fish, and see what was the matter, for perhaps this adventure might concern him.
As soon as Nennillo approached the fish, it raised up its head upon the rock, and opening its throat six palms wide, Nennella stepped out, so beautiful that she looked just like a nymph in some interlude, come forth from that animal at the incantation of a magician. And when the prince asked her how it had all happened, she told him a part of her sad story, and the hatred of their stepmother; but not being able to recollect the name of their father nor of their home, the prince caused a proclamation to be issued, commanding that whoever had lost two children, named Nennillo and Nennella, in a wood, should come to the royal palace, and he would there receive joyful news of them.
Jannuccio, who had all this time passed a sad and disconsolate life, believing that his children had been devoured by wolves, now hastened with the greatest joy to seek the prince, and told him that he had lost the children. And when he had related the story, how he had been compelled to take them to the wood, the prince gave him a good scolding, calling him a blockhead for allowing a woman to put her heel upon his neck till he was brought to send away two such jewels as his children. But after he had broken Jannuccio's head with these words, he applied to it the plaster of consolation, showing him the children, whom the father embraced and kissed for half an hour without being satisfied.
Then the prince made him pull off his jacket, and had him dressed like a lord; and sending for Jannuccio's wife, he showed her those two golden pippins, asked her what that person would deserve who should do them any harm, and even endanger their lives.
And she replied, "For my part, I would put her into a closed cask, and send her rolling down a mountain."
"So it shall be done!" said the prince. "The goat has butted at herself. Quick now! you have passed the sentence, and you must suffer it, for having borne these beautiful stepchildren such malice."
So he gave orders that the sentence should be instantly executed. Then choosing a very rich lord among his vassals, he gave him Nennella to wife, and the daughter of another great lord to Nennillo; allowing them enough to live upon, with their father, so that they wanted for nothing in the world. But the stepmother, shut into the cask and shut out from life, kept on crying through the bunghole as long as she had breath:
To him who mischief seeks, shall mischief fall;
There comes an hour that recompenses all.
Once upon a time there lived a woodcutter and his wife; they had seven children, all boys. The eldest was but ten years old, and the youngest only seven. People were astonished that the woodcutter had had so many children in such a short time, but his wife was very fond of children, and never had less than two at a time
They were very poor, and their seven children inconvenienced them greatly, because not one of them was able to earn his own way. They were especially concerned, because the youngest was very sickly. He scarcely ever spoke a word, which they considered to be a sign of stupidity, although it was in truth a mark of good sense. He was very little, and when born no bigger than one's thumb, for which reason they called him Little Thumb.
The poor child bore the blame of everything that went wrong in the house. Guilty or not, he was always held to be at fault. He was, notwithstanding, more cunning and had a far greater share of wisdom than all his brothers put together. And although he spoke little, he listened well.
There came a very bad year, and the famine was so great that these poor people decided to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when the children were all in bed and the woodcutter was sitting with his wife at the fire, he said to her, with his heart ready to burst with grief, "You see plainly that we are not able to keep our children, and I cannot see them starve to death before my face. I am resolved to lose them in the woods tomorrow, which may very easily be done; for, while they are busy in tying up the bundles of wood, we can leave them, without their noticing."
"Ah!" cried out his wife; "and can you yourself have the heart to take your children out along with you on purpose to abandon them?"
In vain her husband reminded her of their extreme poverty. She would not consent to it. Yes, she was poor, but she was their mother. However, after having considered what a grief it would be for her to see them perish with hunger, she at last consented, and went to bed in tears.
Little Thumb heard every word that had been spoken; for observing, as he lay in his bed, that they were talking very busily, he got up softly, and hid under his father's stool, in order to hear what they were saying without being seen. He went to bed again, but did not sleep a wink all the rest of the night, thinking about what he had to do. He got up early in the morning, and went to the riverside, where he filled his pockets with small white pebbles, and then returned home.
They all went out, but Little Thumb never told his brothers one syllable of what he knew. They went into a very thick forest, where they could not see one another at ten paces distance. The woodcutter began his work, and the children gathered up the sticks into bundles. Their father and mother, seeing them busy at their work, slipped away from them without being seen, and returned home along a byway through the bushes.
When the children saw they had been left alone, they began to cry as loudly as they could. Little Thumb let them cry, knowing very well how to get home again, for he had dropped the little white pebbles all along the way. Then he said to them, "Don't be afraid, brothers. Father and mother have left us here, but I will lead you home again. Just follow me."
They did so, and he took them home by the very same way they had come into the forest. They dared not go in, but sat down at the door, listening to what their father and mother were saying.
The woodcutter and his wife had just arrived home, when the lord of the manor sent them ten crowns, which he had owed them a long while, and which they never expected. This gave them new life, for the poor people were almost famished. The woodcutter sent his wife immediately to the butcher's. As it had been a long while since they had eaten, she bought three times as much meat as would be needed for two people.
When they had eaten, the woman said, "Alas! Where are our poor children now? They would make a good feast of what we have left here; but it was you, William, who decided to abandon them. I told you that we would be sorry for it. What are they now doing in the forest? Alas, dear God, the wolves have perhaps already eaten them up. You are very inhuman to have abandoned your children in this way."
The woodcutter at last lost his patience, for she repeated it more than twenty times, that they would be sorry for it, and that she was right for having said so. He threatened to beat her if she did not hold her tongue. It was not that the woodcutter was less upset than his wife, but that she was nagging him. He, like many others, was of the opinion that wives should say the right thing, but that they should not do so too often.
She nearly drowned herself in tears, crying out, "Alas! Where are now my children, my poor children?"
She spoke this so very loud that the children, who were at the gate, began to cry out all together, "Here we are! Here we are!"
She immediately ran to open the door, and said, hugging them, "I am so glad to see you, my dear children; you are very hungry and tired. And my poor Peter, you are horribly dirty; come in and let me clean you."
Now, you must know that Peter was her eldest son, whom she loved above all the rest, because he had red hair, as she herself did.
They sat down to supper and ate with a good appetite, which pleased both father and mother. They told them how frightened they had been in the forest, speaking almost always all together. The parents were extremely glad to see their children once more at home, and this joy continued while the ten crowns lasted; but, when the money was all gone, they fell again into their former uneasiness, and decided to abandon them again. This time they resolved to take them much deeper into the forest than before.
Although they tried to talk secretly about it, again they were overheard by Little Thumb, who made plans to get out of this difficulty as well as he had the last time. However, even though he got up very early in the morning to go and pick up some little pebbles, he could not do so, for he found the door securely bolted and locked. Their father gave each of them a piece of bread for their breakfast, and he fancied he might make use of this instead of the pebbles, by throwing it in little bits all along the way; and so he put it into his pocket.
Their father and mother took them into the thickest and most obscure part of the forest, then, slipping away by an obscure path, they left them there. Little Thumb was not concerned, for he thought he could easily find the way again by means of his bread, which he had scattered along the way; but he was very much surprised when he could not find so much as one crumb. The birds had come and had eaten every bit of it up. They were now in great distress, for the farther they went the more lost and bewildered they became.
Night now came on, and there arose a terrible high wind, which made them dreadfully afraid. They fancied they heard on every side of them the howling of wolves coming to eat them up. They scarcely dared to speak or turn their heads. After this, it rained very hard, which drenched them to the skin; their feet slipped at every step they took, and they fell into the mire, getting them muddy all over. Their hands were numb with cold.
Little Thumb climbed to the top of a tree, to see if he could discover anything. Turning his head in every direction, he saw at last a glimmering light, like that of a candle, but a long way from the forest. He came down, but from the ground, he could no longer see it no more, which concerned him greatly. However, after walking for some time with his brothers in the direction where he had seen the light, he perceived it again as he came out of the woods.
They came at last to the house where this candle was, but not without many fearful moments, for every time they walked down into a hollow they lost sight of it. They knocked at the door, and a good woman opened it. She asked them what they wanted.
Little Thumb told her they were poor children who had been lost in the forest, and begged her, for God's sake, to give them lodging.
The woman, seeing that they were good looking children, began to weep, and said to them, "Alas, poor babies, where are you from? Do you know that this house belongs to a cruel ogre who eats up little children?"
"Ah! dear madam," answered Little Thumb (who, as well as his brothers, was trembling all over), "what shall we do? If you refuse to let us sleep here then the wolves of the forest surely will devour us tonight. We would prefer the gentleman to eat us, but perhaps he would take pity upon us, especially if you would beg him to."
The ogre's wife, who believed she could hide them from her husband until morning, let them come in, and had them to warm themselves at a very good fire. There was a whole sheep on the spit, roasting for the ogre's supper.
After they warmed up a little, they heard three or four great raps at the door. This was the ogre, who was come home. Hearing him, she hid them under the bed and opened the door. The ogre immediately asked if supper was ready and the wine drawn, and then sat down at the table. The sheep was still raw and bloody, but he preferred it that way. He sniffed about to the right and left, saying, "I smell fresh meat."
His wife said, "You can smell the calf which I have just now killed and flayed."
"I smell fresh meat, I tell you once more," replied the ogre, looking crossly at his wife, "and there is something here which I do not understand."
As he spoke these words he got up from the table and went directly to the bed. "Ah, hah!" he said. "I see then how you would cheat me, you cursed woman; I don't know why I don't eat you as well. It is fortunate for you that you are tough old carrion. But here is good game, which has luckily arrived just in time to serve to three ogre friends who are coming here to visit in a day or two."
With that he dragged them out from under the bed, one by one. The poor children fell upon their knees, and begged his pardon; but they were dealing with one of the cruelest ogres in the world. Far from having any pity on them, he had already devoured them with his eyes. He told his wife that they would be delicate eating with good savory sauce. He then took a large knife, and, approaching the poor children, sharpened it on a large whetstone which he held in his left hand.
He had already taken hold of one of them when his wife said to him, "Why do it now? Is it not tomorrow soon enough?"
"Hold your chatter," said the ogre; "they will be more tender, if I kill them now."
"But you have so much meat already," replied his wife. "You have no need for more. Here are a calf, two sheep, and half a hog."
"That is true," said the ogre. "Feed them so they don't get too thin, and put them to bed."
The good woman was overjoyed at this, and offered them a good supper, but they were so afraid that they could not eat a bit. As for the ogre, he sat down to drink, being highly pleased that now had something special to treat his friends. He drank a dozen glasses more than ordinary, which went to his head and made him sleepy.
The ogre had seven little daughters. These young ogresses all had very fine complexions, because they ate fresh meat like their father; but they had little gray eyes, quite round, hooked noses, and very long sharp teeth, well spaced from each other. As yet they were not overly mischievous, but they showed great promise for it, for they had already bitten little children in order to suck their blood.
They had been put to bed early, all seven in a large bed, and each of them wearing a crown of gold on her head. The ogre's wife gave the seven little boys a bed just as large and in the same room, then she went to bed to her husband.
Little Thumb, who had observed that the ogre's daughters had crowns of gold upon their heads, and was afraid lest the ogre should change his mind about not killing them, got up about midnight, and, taking his brothers' caps and his own, went very softly and put them on the heads of the seven little ogresses, after having taken off their crowns of gold, which he put on his own head and his brothers', that the ogre might take them for his daughters, and his daughters for the little boys whom he wanted to kill.
All of this happened according to his plan for, the ogre awakened about midnight and, regretting that he had put off until morning that which he might have done tonight, he hastily got out of bed and picked up his large knife. "Let us see," he said, "how our little rogues are doing! We'll not make that mistake a second time!"
He then went, groping all the way, into his daughters' room. He came to the bed where the little boys lay. They were all fast asleep except Little Thumb, who was terribly afraid when he felt the ogre feeling about his head, as he had done about his brothers'. Feeling the golden crowns, the ogre said, "That would have been a terrible mistake. Truly, I did drink too much last night."
Then he went to the bed where the girls lay. Finding the boys' caps on them, he said, "Ah, hah, my merry lads, here you are. Let us get to work." So saying, and without further ado, he cut all seven of his daughters' throats. Well pleased with what he had done, he went to bed again to his wife.
As soon as Little Thumb heard the ogre snore, he wakened his brothers and told them to put on their clothes immediately and to follow him. They stole softly down into the garden, and climbed over the wall. They kept running nearly the whole night, trembling all the while, and not knowing which way they were going.
The ogre, when he awoke, said to his wife, "Go upstairs and dress those young rascals who came here last night."
The ogress was very much surprised at this goodness of her husband, not dreaming how he intended that she should dress them, thinking that he had ordered her to go and put their clothes on them, she went up, and was horribly astonished when she saw her seven daughters with their throats cut and lying in their own blood.
She fainted away, for this is the first expedient almost all women find in such cases. The ogre, fearing his wife would be too long in doing what he had ordered, went up himself to help her. He was no less amazed than his wife at this frightful spectacle.
"What have I done?" he cried. "Those wretches shall soon pay for this!" He threw a pitcher of water on his wife's face, and, having brought her to herself, cried, "Bring me my seven-league boots at once, so that I can catch them."
He went out, and ran this way and that over a vast amount of ground. At last he came to the very road where the poor children were, and not more than a hundred paces from their father's house. They saw the ogre coming, who was stepping from mountain to mountain, and crossing over rivers as easily as if they were little streams. Little Thumb hid himself and his brothers in a nearby hollow rock, all the while keeping watch on the ogre.
The ogre was very tired from his long and fruitless journey (for seven-league boots are very tiring to wear), and decided to take a rest. By chance he sat on the rock where the little boys had hid themselves. He was so tired that he fell asleep, and began to snore so frightfully that the poor children were no less afraid of him than when he had held up his large knife and was about to cut their throats. However, Little Thumb was not as frightened as his brothers were, and told them that they immediately should run away towards home while the ogre was asleep so soundly, and that they should not worry about him. They took his advice, and soon reached home. Little Thumb came up to the ogre, pulled off his boots gently and put them on his own feet. The boots were very long and large, but because they were enchanted, they became big or little to fit the person who was wearing them. So they fit his feet and legs as well as if they had been custom made for him. He immediately went to the ogre's house, where he saw his wife crying bitterly for the loss of her murdered daughters.
"Your husband," said Little Thumb, "is in very great danger. He has been captured by a gang of thieves, who have sworn to kill him if he does not give them all his gold and silver. At the very moment they were holding their daggers to his throat he saw me, and begged me to come and tell you the condition he is in. You should give me everything he has of value, without keeping back anything at all, for otherwise they will kill him without mercy. Because his case is so very urgent, he lent me his boots (you see I have them on), that I might make the more haste and to show you that he himself has sent me to you."
The good woman, being sadly frightened, gave him all she had, for although this ogre ate up little children, he was a good husband. Thus Little Thumb got all the ogre' s money. He returned with it to his father's house, where he was received with great joy.
There are many people who do not agree with this last detail. They claim that Little Thumb never robbed the ogre at all, that he only made off with the seven-league boots, and that with a good conscience, because the ogre's only use of them was to pursue little children. These folks affirm that they are quite sure of this, because they have often drunk and eaten at the woodcutter's house.
These people claim that after taking off the ogre's boots, Little Thumb went to court, where he learned that there was much concern about the outcome of a certain battle and the condition of a certain army, which was two hundred leagues off. They say that he went to the king, and told him that, if he desired it, he would bring him news from the army before night. The king promised him a great sum of money if he could do so. Little Thumb was as good as his word, and returned that very same night with the news. This first feat brought him great fame, and he could then name his own price. Not only did the king pay him very well for carrying his orders to the army, but the ladies of the court paid him handsomely to bring them information about their lovers. Occasionally wives gave him letters for their husbands, but they paid so poorly, that he did not even bother to keep track of the money he made in this branch of his business.
After serving as a messenger for some time and thus acquiring great wealth, he went home to his father, where he was received with inexpressible joy. He made the whole family very comfortable, bought positions for his father and brothers, all the while handsomely looking after himself as well.
It is no affliction to have many children, if they all are good looking, courteous, and strong, but if one is sickly or slow-witted, he will be scorned, ridiculed, and despised. However, it is often the little urchin who brings good fortune to the entire family.
The father said he would go and get something for them to eat. He went away, and never returned, and the children wandered through the wood, and after a while died with starvation. It is said that the robins brought leaves and covered their dead bodies.
Written by Rupert Elliott.
Told by my Mother.
They traveled and traveled and could never see a house. It began to be dark, and they were hungry. At last they saw a light and made for it; it turned out to be a house. They knocked at the door, and a woman came to it, who said, "What do you want?"
They said, "Please let us in and give us something to eat."
The woman said, "I can't do that, as my man is a giant, and he would kill you if he comes home."
They begged hard. "Let us stop for a little while," said they, "and we will go away before he comes."
So she took them in, and set them down before the fire, and gave them milk and bread; but just as they had begun to eat, a great knock came to the door, and a dreadful voice said:
Fee, fie, fo, fum,"Who have you there, wife?"
I smell the blood of some earthly one.
"Eh," said the wife, "it's three poor lassies cold and hungry, and they will go away. Ye won't touch, 'em, man."
He said nothing, but ate up a big supper, and ordered them to stay all night.
Now he had three lassies of his own, and they were to sleep in the same bed with the three strangers. The youngest of the three strange lassies was called Molly Whuppie, and she was very clever. She noticed that before they went to bed the giant put straw ropes round her neck and her sisters', and round his own lassies' necks, he put gold chains. So Molly took care and did not fall asleep, but waited till she was sure everyone was sleeping sound. Then she slipped out of bed, and took the straw ropes off her own and her sisters' necks, and took the gold chains off the giant's lassies. She then put the straw ropes on the giant's lassies and the gold on herself and her sisters, and lay down. And in the middle of the night up rose the giant, armed with a great club, and felt for the necks with the straw. It was dark. He took his own lassies out of the bed on to the floor, and battered them until they were dead, and then lay down again, thinking he had managed finely.
Molly thought it time she and her sisters were off and away, so she wakened them and told them to be quiet, and they slipped out of the house. They all got out safe, and they ran and ran, and never stopped until morning, when they saw a grand house before them. It turned out to be a king's house; so Molly went in, and told her story to the king.
He said, "Well, Molly, you are a clever girl, and you have managed well; but, if you would manage better, and go back, and steal the giant's sword that hangs on the back of his bed, I would give your eldest sister my eldest son to marry."
Molly said she would try. So she went back, and managed to slip into the giant's house, and crept in below the bed. The giant came home, and ate up a great supper, and went to bed. Molly waited until he was snoring, and she crept out, and reached over the giant and got down the sword; but just as she got it out over the bed it gave a rattle, and up jumped the giant, and Molly ran out at the door and the sword with her; and she ran, and he ran, till they came to the "Bridge of one hair"; and she got over, but he couldn't and he says, "Woe worth ye, Molly Whuppie! never ye come again."
And she says: "Twice yet, carle," quoth she, "I'll come to Spain." So Molly took the sword to the king, and her sister was married to his son.
Well, the king he says, "Ye've managed well, Molly; but if ye would manage better, and steal the purse that lies below the giant's pillow, I would marry your second sister to my second son."
And Molly said she would try. So she set out for the giant's house, and slipped in, and hid again below the bed, and waited till the giant had eaten his supper, and was snoring sound asleep. She slipped out and slipped her hand below the pillow, and got out the purse; but just as she was going out the giant wakened, and ran after her; and she ran, and he ran, till they came to the "Bridge of one hair," and she got over, but he couldn't, and he said, "Woe worth ye, Molly Whuppie! never you come again."
"Once yet, carle," quoth she, "I'll come to Spain." So Molly took the purse to the king, and her second sister was married to the king's second son.
After that the king says to Molly, "Molly, you are a clever girl, but if you would do better yet, and steal the giant's ring that he wears on his finger, I will give you my youngest son for yourself."
Molly said she would try. So back she goes to the giant's house, and hides herself below the bed. The giant wasn't long ere he came home, and, after he had eaten a great big supper, he went to his bed, and shortly was snoring loud. Molly crept out and reached over the bed, and got hold of the giant's hand, and she pulled and she pulled until she got off the ring; but just as she got it off the giant got up, and gripped her by the hand and he says, "Now I have caught you, Molly Whuppie; and, if I done as much ill to you as ye have done to me, what would ye do to me?"
Molly says, "I would put you into a sack, and I'd put the cat inside wi' you, and the dog aside you, and a needle and thread and shears, and I'd hang you up upon the wall, and I'd go to the wood, and choose the thickest stick I could get, and I would come home, and take you down, and bang you till you were dead."
"Well, Molly," says the giant, "I'll just do that to you.
So he gets a sack, and puts Molly into it, and the cat and the dog beside her, and a needle and thread and shears, and hangs her up upon the wall, and goes to the wood to choose a stick.
Molly she sings out, "Oh, if ye saw what I see."
"Oh," says the giant's wife, "what do you see, Molly?"
But Molly never said a word but, "Oh, if ye saw what I see!"
The giants wife begged that Molly would take her up into the sack till she would see what Molly saw. So Molly took the shears and cut a hole in the sack, and took out the needle and thread with her, and jumped down and helped the giants wife up into the sack, and sewed up the hole.
The giant's wife saw nothing, and began to ask to get down again; but Molly never minded, but hid herself at the back of the door. Home came the giant, and a great big tree in his hand, and he took down the sack, and began to batter it. His wife cried, "It's me, man"; but the dog barked and the cat mewed, and he did not know his wife's voice.
But Molly came out from the back of the door, and the giant saw her and he ran after her; and he ran, and she ran, till they came to the "Bridge of one hair," and she got over, but he couldn't; and he said, "Woe worth you, Mollie Whuppie! never you come again."
"Never more, carle," quoth she, "will I come again to Spain."
So Molly took the ring to the king, and she was married to his youngest son, and she never saw the giant again.
Now once upon a time there were a father and a mother who had a large flock of children. The father went to town and bought a scoopful of peas and gave each child one pea, but Jan and Hanna did not get any. This made them cry.
The father said, "Be quiet and don't cry. I am going into the forest to chop wood. You can come along and look for berries."
The father took a breadboard and a rolling pin with him and hung them on a tree. He said to Jan and Hanna, "Just go and pick berries. You can pick berries as long as I am chopping wood."
The wind blew the breadboard and the rolling pin against each other, and they thought their father was still chopping wood, so they continued to pick berries. After they had eaten until they were full and had filled their little buckets as well, they went and looked for their father. They came to the place where the breadboard and the rolling pin were hanging, but no father was there. They cried, then ran about in the woods shouting, but they did not find anyone.
Suddenly they came to a little gingerbread house. They began to crumble off some little pieces: crumble, crumble from Old Vera's little house!
Then Old Vera came running out. "Who's there?"
They quickly hid themselves so she could not find them. But they continued to crumble little pieces off the little house: crumble, crumble from Old Vera's little house.
Then she ran out very fast and caught them. She took them inside and said, "Now I am going to fatten you up," and she locked them into a little stall and gave them nothing but bread and milk to eat.
After a while she wanted to see if they were fattened up enough. "Jan, stick out your finger. Are you fattened up yet?"
But he stuck out the little whistle he had brought from home. She made a cut in it. "Oh, you are not fat enough yet."
"Hanna, you stick out your finger. Are you fattened up yet?"
But she stuck out a finger that had a ring on it. Old Vera made a cut in the ring. "Oh, you are not fat enough yet either."
Then they cried a lot, and Jan lost his little whistle, and Hanna lost her ring.
Old Vera came again to see if they were fattened up enough. "Jan, stick out your finger." Old Vera made a cut in it, and it bled a little.
"Hanna, you stick out your finger." Old Vera made a cut in it, and it bled a little.
"Yes, you are fattened up enough. Now I am going to roast you."
She heated up her oven very hot, took Jan and Hanna and said, "Sit on the bread pusher."
They sat on the bread pusher, now this way, and now that way.
Vera told them how they were supposed to sit, but every time they fell off. "We don't know how we are supposed to sit. You show us."
Then Old Vera sat on the bread pusher, and bang! they pushed her into the glowing oven.
Old Vera burned up completely, so the little gingerbread house was theirs, and if they haven't sold it, they still have it to this very day.
But the stepmother proved to be a very cruel, neglectful woman who did not want to work. Not only did she not love the children, but she wanted to get rid of them, so she gave her husband no peace. She made up all kinds of lies about the wickedness of the children and said that he must get rid of them. She commanded him to take them to the woods and leave them there.
He was afraid of her and at last consented. Therefore one day, he said to the children with a sad heart, "Take your little baskets and come with me to the woods to pick strawberries."
They jumped with joy and at once taking their little baskets, they went most happily with their father to the woods.
When they were deep in the forest, the father led them to an open place where there were many berries, in fact the place was red with the luscious fruit.
"Now, dear ones," he said, "Pick all the berries you please, while I am away. As long as you hear me cutting wood, you will know that I am nearby."
The children began eagerly to pick berries, and the father went a little ways on, where he bound his mallet on a tree. It swung back and forth in the wind, hitting the tree and making a noise like the cutting of wood. When this had been done, the father returned home, leaving the children in the woods.
When Jan and Marie had their baskets full of berries, and had eaten their fill, they began to think of looking for their father. They went to the place where they heard the sound of the swinging mallet, but they saw nothing of their father, only the mallet hitting against the tree. This mallet was a big hammer which he used for driving in the wedges to split the logs.
"Where is father?" asked Jan. "Perhaps he has gone home and forgotten us."
Now Marie had perfect trust in her father. She could not think that he would wilfully desert them.
She said to Jan, "Why do you think that? Surely he is somewhere near and will come for us, no doubt."
So they waited for quite a while. They ate from their little baskets, till the berries were all gone. Then they filled them again. And so the time was flying.
Before it grew quite dark, the sound of the mallet ceased, and the children began to be frightened. They took their baskets and once more looked for father. The sun had set and evening had come.
They called, "Father, where are you?" but no sound came to answer them.
Marie who was older and wiser than Jan, but just as much afraid, would not let him see that tears were so near her eyes.
Then she tried to comfort him, by saying, "Wait a minute, I will climb up in a tree from which I can perhaps see a light. Then we will go towards it."
Up the tree she scrambled. It was so high that she could see from its top in all directions.
After a while she saw a light gleaming in the distance. "Oh, Jan! I see a light! Let's go towards it."
Down she came and they started.
Following the light, they came to a tiny little house. It was such a funny little house; they felt of it with their hands, and then they saw that it was made of candy.
Jan was delighted. Now he felt that he could have all the candy he wanted. At once he scrambled up on the roof to break some off to throw down to Marie, who was still afraid that some harm might come to them. But Jan was already on the roof and had peeled off some candy, which he had thrown down to her.
They went to its little window and peeked in. There they saw an old man and woman sitting by the fire. At first they thought they would knock and ask for something to eat, but Marie was afraid.
The moment the candy was broken off, the old woman said, "What is that? I hear a noise. Surely someone is breaking into our house. See who's there."
The old man went out and saw a little girl under their window.
"What are you doing here? Are you trying to break into our house?" he asked her.
"Oh, no, Grandfather. It is the wind," said Marie, her childish voice trembling with fear.
With this the old man was satisfied, and he went back into the house.
The children had eaten enough, and they nestled to sleep in each other's arms, under the window of the house of candy. In the morning Jan climbed up on the roof to get another piece of candy. Again the old woman sent the man out to see what was going on.
Marie thought to get rid of the old man once more, but this time, he saw two children. Then he went back to tell the old woman.
"Quick, quick, dear Jan," called Marie, "we must run away at once, or something terrible will happen to us," for she had heard the old woman command the man to catch the children, so that she could roast them for her dinner.
Jan leaped down from the roof. Marie snatched his hand and they ran away as fast as they could.
Suddenly Jan and Marie came upon a woman in a field of flax.
Panting and out of breath, "Tell us please, mother, where we can hide. A bad old man from the house of candy is trying to catch us. He wants to take us home, so that they can roast us for their dinner, because we have taken a piece of candy from their roof."
The woman in the field was a good fairy and loved all little children.
She was determined to help Jan and Marie, so she said, "Go this way a little distance into the woods. I will see what I can do with the old man."
Then she showed the children the path, along which they ran as fast as their little legs could take them.
After a little while, the old man came along, panting and blowing.
Seeing the woman in the field, he called out, "Woman, have you seen two children go by and which way did they go?"
The woman pretended that she was deaf, and she answered, "I am in the flax field pulling up the weeds."
"Woman, I ask you, if you have seen two children pass this way."
But she continued, "I shall weed the flax, until it is ripe."
Raising his voice, "Listen to me", woman, have you seen two children go by here?"
"When we shall have gathered the crop, we shall clean the seeds, and then moisten the flax," said the woman.
This time the man fairly shouted, "Stupid, don't you understand me? Have you seen two children pass this way?"
"When we have moistened the flax, we shall spread it out in the sun to dry," she kept on.
"Woman, are you deaf? Have you seen two children pass this way?"
"After the flax is dried, we shall comb and then hackle it."
"Don't you hear? Have you seen two children?"
"Then when the flax is hackled, we shall bind it on the distaff ready for spinning."
"I don't care anything about that. Have you seen two children pass by here?" and with each question, he grew more and more angry.
"And after we have spun some fine garters, we will wind the rest of the thread on spools."
"Tell me, woman, have you seen two children pass this way?"
"When we have wound the thread on spools, we shall then weave some beautiful fine linen."
'I don't care any thing about the linen. I ask you again, have you seen two children go by here?"
"When we have woven the linen, we shall bleach it. Then we shall cut it out for little shirts, swaddling clothes, skirts, and aprons."
"Are you deaf?" he yelled. "Have you seen two children go by?"
"Oh yes, oh yes. What are we going to do with it? Finally we shall make tinder from it. Then the flint, when it strikes will make a tiny spark. The fire of God will not consume it. The fire will become smoke, the smoke wind. That is the end of my story."
"I did not ask you any thing about that," thundered the old man. What I want to know, did you see two children pass this way?"
"Children, children? You should have told me that in the first place. Of course I saw them. They went that way, by the path through the fields, down to the brook where the willows are, but you will never catch them, for they flew like hawks."
At this the woman showed the man the opposite side to which she had directed the children. Then the old man recognized that he had been outwitted. He frothed with rage and turned back home.
When he had gone, the woman disappeared from the field, and the children reached home in safety. The father was very glad to get them back.
Once upon a time there were a father and a mother who had two children, a girl and a boy. The girl's name was Gretel, and the boy's name was Hans. The children were disobedient, and often received beatings.
One day they wanted to go into the woods to pick strawberries, but their mother said, "You are not allowed to go out today. A thunderstorm is approaching, so you have to stay at home."
But the children did not obey. While their mother was busy working, the children took their little baskets from the wall and went into the woods. There they picked strawberries, but they had scarcely begun when it grew dark. A storm arose that whipped the trees fiercely against each other until the branches came flying down. It began to thunder and lightning, followed by hail and rain. The frightened children were sorry that they had not obeyed their mother and remained at home. Fortunately they found a rocky cave, and they crept inside and waited until the rain stopped.
After the thunderstorm had passed, they wanted to go home, but -- oh dear -- they no longer knew the way. They walked and walked, but instead of going out of the woods, they only went deeper and deeper into the woods. They grew terribly afraid and called out, "Father! Mother!" but no one heard them. Night fell, and they saw with terror that they would have to sleep in the woods.
Then Gretel said, "Hans, do you know what? Climb a tree. You like to climb trees, and you can look around. Maybe you'll see a light where we can go."
Hans did this, and he did indeed see a light in the distance. He came down from the tree, took Gretel by the hand, and led her in the direction of the light he had seen. When they arrived there, they saw a little house from which the light was glistening. Looking more closely, they found that it was made of gingerbread. The walls were of gingerbread and the roof of marzipan. They looked around for a ladder, and finding one, they leaned it on the roof and climbed up. There they made themselves comfortable and began breaking off one marzipan shingle after the other and eating them, until there was a hole clear through the roof.
Now a witch named Grule lived in this little house, and she liked to eat children more than anything else. She was just about to go to bed when she heard something on her roof.
Running outside, she said with a deep voice, "Who is robbing my house?"
"The wind, the wind," was Gretel's reply, with a very gentle voice.
Satisfied, she went back inside and went to bed.
In the meantime the moon had risen, and when the witch put out her light she noticed a large hole in the roof above her bed, and a child's head looking around. She jumped up, ran outside, pulled the children down from the roof, and said, "Just wait, you worthless brats. I'll teach you to ruin my house. Get inside. You can't leave." And with these words she put them in an empty chicken coop and locked the door.
The next days, and for some time afterward, the witch brought the children good things to eat, for she wanted to fatten them up in order to have a good roast from them. She brought the children all the things they liked to eat: cake, sweets, fruit, and many other things.
When she thought that the children must be fat enough, she took a knife to the coop. First she went to Gretel and said, "Girl, stick out your little finger, but Gretel thought, "No way," and held out her apron string.
Grule cut into it a little, and said, "Skinny, skinny."
Then she went to Hans and said, "Boy, stick out your little finger," and Hans held out his trouser string.
She likewise cut into it and said, "Skinny, skinny," then went away.
After this she thought, "What should I give the children to eat to make them fat? Good things don't make them fat. I'll try something else." And from then on she gave them nothing but flour porridge, which the children soon grew to hate.
Some time later the witch again came to the coop with a knife and said to Gretel, "Girl, stick out your little finger," and this time Gretel held out her finger. Old Grule cut into it a little, and a drop of blood appeared. Then the witch said, "Fat, fat."
Then she went to Hans and told him to hold out his finger as well, which he did, just as Gretel had done. She cut into it too, and when it bled a little, she again said, "Fat, fat."
She went to her kitchen and made a fire in her oven. After it had burned down she took a wooden crook and with it spread the coals evenly across the oven's entire surface. After a while she took a wet straw whisk and swept the coals to the front of the oven, then took them out. Then she went to the coop, opened it, and said, "Come, children, I have some baked plums in the oven. You can get them out for me."
The two ran for joy into the kitchen with Old Grule, thinking that at last they were going to get something other than the eternal flour porridge. Arriving there, the witch got a baker's peel and told the children to sit on it, so she could push them into the oven. But while Grule was gone, Gretel looked into the oven and saw that there were no plums in it at all. So when Old Grule told her to sit on the peel first, she pretended to be so awkward that she fell off. Then she said, "My dear Grule, I don't understand how I am supposed to sit on it. Show me, so I can see how."
Then Old Grule pulled her skirts together, sat down on the baker's peel, and said, "See. This is how to do it." And while she was thus sitting there, Gretel gave a sign to Hans, and bang, the children pushed the witch into the oven, and Old Grule burned up miserably.
Gretel and Hans returned home. Their parents were very happy to see them, for they thought their children had died, but still each of them was given a beating for being disobedient.
Once upon a time there was a poor man, who had a wife and two children, a boy and a girl. He was so poor that he possessed nothing in the world but the ashes on his hearth.
His wife died, and after a time he married another woman, who was cantankerous and bad natured, and from morning till evening, as long as the day lasted, she gave the poor man no peace, but snarled and shouted at him.
The woman said to him, "Do away with these children. You cannot even keep me. How then can you keep all these mouths?" for was she not a stepmother?
The poor man stood her nagging for a long time, but then, one night, she quarreled so much that he promised her that he would take the children into the forest and leave them there. The two children were sitting in the corner but held their peace and heard all that was going on.
The next day, the man, taking his ax upon his shoulder, called to the children and said to them, "Come with me into the forest. I am going to cut wood."
The little children went with him, but before they left, the little girl filled her pocket with ashes from the hearth, and as she walked along she dropped little bits of coal the way they went.
After a time they reached a very dense part of the forest, where they could not see their way any longer, and there the man said to the children, "Wait here for a while. I am only going to cut wood yonder. When I have done I will come back and fetch you home." And leaving the children there in the thicket, he went away, heavy hearted, and returned home.
The children waited for a while, and seeing that their father did not return, the girl knew what he had done. So they slept through the night in the forest, and the next morning, taking her brother by the hand, she followed the trace of the ashes which she had left on the road, and thus came home to their own house.
When the stepmother saw them, she did not know what to do with herself. She went almost out of her mind with fury. If she could, she would have swallowed them in a spoonful of water, so furious was she.
The husband, who was a weakling, tried to pacify her, and to endeavor to get the children away by one means or another, but did not succeed.
When the stepmother found that she could not do anything through her husband, she made up her mind that she herself would get rid of them. So one morning, when her husband had gone away, she took the little boy, and without saying anything to anybody, she killed him and gave him to his sister to cut him up, and prepare a meal for all of them. What was she to do? If she was not to be killed like her brother, she had to do what her stepmother told her.
And so she cut him up and cooked him ready for the meal But she took the heart, and hid it away in a hollow of a tree. When the stepmother asked her where the heart was, she said that a dog had come and taken it away.
In the evening, when the husband came home, she brought the broth with the meat for the husband to eat, and she sat down and ate of it, and so did the husband, not knowing that he was eating the flesh of his child. The little girl refused to eat it. She would not touch it. After they had finished, she gathered up all the little bones and hid them in the hollow of the tree where she had put the heart.
The next morning, out of that hollow of the tree there came a little bird with dark feathers, and sitting on the branch of a tree, began to sing, "Cuckoo! My sister has cooked me, and my father has eaten me, but I am now a cuckoo and safe from my stepmother."
When the stepmother, who happened to be near the tree, heard what that little bird was singing, in her fury and fright she took a heavy lump of salt which lay near at hand, and threw it at the cuckoo. But instead of hitting it, the lump fell down on her head and killed her on the spot.
And the little boy has remained a cuckoo to this very day.
All day she thought of nothing but how she should get rid of them; and at last an evil idea came into her head, and she determined to send them out into the great gloomy wood where a wicked witch lived.
And so one morning she spoke to them, saying: "You have been such good children that I am going to send you to visit my granny, who lives in a dear little hut in the wood. You will have to wait upon her and serve her, but you will be well rewarded, for she will give you the best of everything."
So the children left the house together; and the little sister, who was very wise for her years, said to the brother: "We will first go and see our own dear grandmother, and tell her where our stepmother is sending us."
And when the grandmother heard where they were going, she cried and said: "You poor motherless children! How I pity you; and yet I can do nothing to help you! Your stepmother is not sending you to her granny, but to a wicked witch who lives in that great gloomy wood. Now listen to me, children. You must be civil and kind to everyone, and never say a cross word to anyone, and never touch a crumb belonging to anyone else. Who knows if, after all, help may not be sent to you?"
And she gave her grandchildren a bottle of milk and a piece of ham and a loaf of bread, and they set out for the great gloomy wood. When they reached it they saw in front of them, in the thickest of the trees, a queer little hut, and when they looked into it, there lay the witch, with her head on the threshold of the door, with one foot in one corner and the other in the other corner, and her knees cocked up, almost touching the ceiling.
"Who's there?" she snarled, in an awful voice, when she saw the children.
And they answered civilly, though they were so terrified that they hid behind one another, and said: "Good morning, granny; our stepmother has sent us to wait upon you, and serve you."
"See that you do it well, then," growled the witch. "If I am pleased with you, I'll reward you; but if I am not, I'll put you in a pan and fry you in the oven -- that's what I'll do with you, my pretty dears! You have been gently reared, but you'll find my work hard enough. See if you don't."
And, so saying, she set the girl down to spin yarn, and she gave the boy a sieve in which to carry water from the well, and she herself went out into the wood.
Now, as the girl was sitting at her distaff, weeping bitterly because she could not spin, she heard the sound of hundreds of little feet, and from every hole and corner in the hut mice came pattering along the floor, squeaking and saying:
Little girl, why are your eyes so red?And the girl gave them the bread that her grandmother had given her. Then the mice told her that the witch had a cat, and the cat was very fond of ham; if she would give the cat her ham, it would show her the way out of the wood, and in the meantime they would spin the yarn for her.
If you want help, then give us some bread.
So the girl set out to look for the cat, and, as she was hunting about, she met her brother, in great trouble because he could not carry water from the well in a sieve, as it came pouring out as fast as he put it in. And as she was trying to comfort him they heard a rustling of wings, and a flight of wrens alighted on the ground beside them.
And the wrens said:
Give us some crumbs, then you need not grieve.Then the twins crumbled their bread on the ground, and the wrens pecked it, and chirruped and chirped. And when they had eaten the last crumb they told the boy to fill up the holes of the sieve with clay, and then to draw water from the well. So he did what they said, and carried the sieve full of water into the hut with out spilling a drop.
For you'll find that water will stay in the sieve.
When they entered the hut the cat was curled up on the floor. So they stroked her, and fed her with ham, and said to her: "Pussy, grey pussy, tell us how we are to get away from the witch?"
Then the cat thanked them for the ham, and gave them a pocket handkerchief and a comb, and told them that when the witch pursued them, as she certainly would, all they had to do was to throw the handkerchief on the ground and run as fast as they could. As soon as the handkerchief touched the ground a deep, broad river would spring up, which would hinder the witch's progress. If she managed to get across it, they must throw the comb behind them and run for their lives, for where the comb fell a dense forest would start up, which would delay the witch so long that they would be able to get safely away.
The cat had scarcely finished speaking when the witch returned to see if the children had fulfilled their tasks. "Well, you have done well enough for today," she grumbled; "but tomorrow you'll have something more difficult to do, and if you don't do it well, you pampered brats, straight into the oven you go."
Half dead with fright, and trembling in every limb, the poor children lay down to sleep on a heap of straw in the corner of the hut; but they dared not close their eyes, and scarcely ventured to breathe.
In the morning the witch gave the girl two pieces of linen to weave before night, and the boy a pile of wood to cut into chips. Then the witch left them to their tasks, and went out into the wood. As soon as she had gone out of sight the children took the comb and the handkerchief, and, taking one another by the hand, they started and ran, and ran, and ran. And first they met the watchdog, who was going to leap on them and tear them to pieces; but they threw the remains of their bread to him, and he ate them and wagged his tail. Then they were hindered by the birch trees, whose branches almost put their eyes out. But the little sister tied the twigs together with a piece of ribbon, and they got past safely, and, after running through the wood, came out on to the open fields. In the meantime in the hut the cat was busy weaving the linen and tangling the threads as it wove.
And the witch returned to see how the children were getting on; and she crept up to the window, and whispered: "Are you weaving, my little dear?"
"Yes, granny, I am weaving," answered the cat.
When the witch saw that the children had escaped her, she was furious, and, hitting the cat with a porringer, she said: "Why did you let the children leave the hut? Why did you not scratch their eyes out?"
But the cat curled up its tail and put its back up, and answered: "I have served you all these years and you never even threw me a bone, but the dear children gave me their own piece of ham."
Then the witch was furious with the watchdog and with the birch trees, because they had let the children pass.
But the dog answered: "I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the dear children gave me their own loaf of bread."
And the birch rustled its leaves, and said: "I have served you longer than I can say, and you never tied a bit of twine even round my branches; and the dear children bound them up with their brightest ribbons."
So the witch saw there was no help to be got from her old servants, and that the best thing she could do was to mount on her broom and set off in pursuit of the children. And as the children ran they heard the sound of the broom sweeping the ground close behind them, so instantly they threw the handkerchief down over their shoulder, and in a moment a deep, broad river flowed behind them.
When the witch came up to it, it took her a long time before she found a place which she could ford over on her broomstick; but at last she got across, and continued the chase faster than before. And as the children ran they heard a sound, and the little sister put her ear to the ground, and heard the broom sweeping the earth close behind them; so, quick as thought, she threw the comb down on the ground, and in an instant, as the cat had said, a dense forest sprung up, in which the roots and branches were so closely intertwined, that it was impossible to force a way through it. So when the witch came up to it on her broom she found that there was nothing for it but to turn round and go back to her hut.
But the twins ran straight on till they reached their own home. Then they told their father all that they had suffered, and he was so angry with their stepmother that he drove her out of the house, and never let her return; but he and the children lived happily together; and he took care of them himself, and never let a stranger come near them.
And after she finished eating the apples, the old woman told her to stay with her all the time. An' then Katie remembered that her mother sent her on an errand to get something for supper. She told the ol' woman that she would stay, but she had to get something for her mother for supper, else she wouldn' have anything.
An' she told her she could have anything she wanted; and she took a wand and hit the table, an' in Katie's mother's house there came lots of good things, and she was wonderin' where they came from. And Katie 'greed to stay with her for a week.
An' at the end of the week she had a dream. She dreamed that a elf came and told her that the witch was goin' to kill her. The next night she dreamed the same thing. The elf left her a comb and a handkerchief, and told her to drop them when the witch came after her.
She jumped out the window in the middle of the night; and as she was almos' nearin' home, she looked behind and saw the witch comin' after her. So she dropped her comb, an' a fores' grew up; and it took the witch a long time to get through. Then, after she got through, Katie dropped her handkerchief, and a river came. An' the witch had to cross the river. As she was almos' home, she came to a woods where a wood-cutter was cuttin' down some trees.
The woodcutter saw the witch, so he cut off her haid. He took Katie home. And her mother told her that came of children that disobeyed.
When the wife asked for the children, he told her he had left them in the bush and she fretted and worried all day. Life became easier for them day by day, and the man became sorry that he had left them in the wood.
The children, when they missed their father, started to travel through the wood to see if they could find their way home.
A little black bird said to them, "Follow me and I will show you your way home!" but this little black bird was an Old Witch.
It carried them to a house made out of nothing but cakes, sweets and all manner of nice things, and then the bird vanished away from them. But they were so glad to get the cakes and sweets that they began eating at once. Immediately as they touched the first cake, the door of the house opened and a very ugly-looking blind old woman came out to them and asked them what they were doing there; so they told her how they had been lost in the bush.
She took them into the house, put one in a cage and had one to do all the work of the house. Every evening she went to feed the one in the cage, and asked him to stick out his hand to see if he was getting fat; so the one left in the house gave him a bone to stretch out instead, because the Old Witch was blind and could only feel. The one in the cage was getting very fat and rosy.
One day she went to the cage and asked him to stretch out his hand and the child stretched out the bone; so she became very impatient, said she couldn't wait any longer and would kill him that very day for dinner, and asked the one in the house to heat up the oven.
Then the Witch told the one in the house to see if the oven was hot enough; the Witch was going to shut the door on her and let her stay in there and bake. But the girl was smart and said she did not know how to get into it, she must show her the way. As the Witch went into the oven, she pushed her in and shut the door, and the Witch stood in there squealing till she was burned to death. Then the girl ran and took the boy out of the cage, took some of the cakes and nice things off the house, and ran to their own home. The parents were so glad to see them that they kept a ball for them that night, and they told the story how they had killed the Witch.
The old mother wept when she heard the words of her cruel husband. She did not want to be separated from her children; but she feared that she would be whipped if she kept them, so she obeyed the cruel order. At first the poor children did not want to go away; but, when they saw that their bad father was going to kick them, they ran off crying.
Soon the children came to a wild forest. "Maria, what will become of us here?" said Juan.
"I am very hungry," said the little girl.
"I don't think that I can get you any food in this wilderness," said the kind brother, "but let me see!" He then looked around. By good luck he found a guava tree with one small fruit on it. He immediately climbed up for the guava, and gave it to his hungry sister. Then the two children resumed their journey.
As they were walking along, Maria found a hen's egg on the grass. She picked it up and carried it along with her in her dirty ragged skirt. At last they saw a very small hut roofed with dry talahib (coarse, long grass). An old woman in the hut welcomed them, and asked them where they were going. After Juan had told her their story, she invited the tired children to stay in the hut with her. She promised that she would treat them as her little son and daughter.
From that time on, Juan and Maria lived with the kind old woman. Juan grew to be a strong fine man, and Maria became a beautiful young woman. Juan spent almost all his time hunting in the mountains and woods.
One morning he caught a black deer. While he was taking the animal home, the deer said to him, "Juan, as soon as you reach your home, kill me, eat my flesh, and put my hide in your trunk. After three days open your trunk, and you will see something astonishing."
When Juan reached home, he did as the deer had told him to do. On the third day he found in the trunk golden armor. He was greatly delighted by the precious gift.
Maria had not been living long with the old woman when she found that the egg had hatched into a chick, which soon grew into a fine fighting cock. One morning the cock crowed, "Tok-to-ko-kok! Take me to the cockpit. I'll surely win!"
Maria told the old woman what the cock had said, and the next Sunday Juan took the fighting cock to the cockpit. There the rooster was victorious, and won much money for Juan.
One day Juan heard that a tournament would be held in front of the king's palace. The winner of the contest was to become the husband of the princess, and would inherit the throne. Juan quickly put on his golden armor, and hastened to the palace to try his skill. He defeated all his opponents. The next day his bridal ceremony was celebrated, and the crown was placed on his head. That very day he ascended the throne to rule over the kingdom.
Although Juan was now king, he was not proud. He and the queen visited Maria to get her to live in the palace; but the old woman would not allow her to go with her brother, as she had no other companion in the hut.
One day a prince was lost in the forest. He happened to come across the hut in which Maria was living. He fell in love with her, and wanted to marry her. As the old woman offered no objections to the proposal of the prince, the following day Maria became a queen, just as her brother had become king.
Although the parents of Juan and Maria had been very cruel, yet the king and queen did not forget them. The brother and sister visited their father and mother, whom they found in the most wretched condition. When the father saw that his children had become king and queen, he wept greatly for his former cruelty to them.
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Revised March 3, 2022.