HANSEL AND GRETEL


   Once upon a time . . . a very poor woodcutter lived in a tiny cottage in 
the forest with his two children, Hansel and Gretel. His second wife often 
ill-treated the children and was forever nagging the woodcutter.

   "There is not enough food in the house for us all. There are too many 
mouths to feed! We must get rid of the two brats," she declared. And she kept 
on trying to persuade her husband to abandon his children in the forest.

   "Take them miles from home, so far that they can never find their way back!
Maybe someone will find them and give them a home." The downcast woodcutter 
didn't know what to do. Hansel who, one evening, had overheard his parents'
conversation, comforted Gretel.                                 =--=

   "Don't worry! If they do leave us in the forest, we'll find the way home," 
he said. And slipping out of the house he filled his pockets with little white
pebbles, then went back to bed.

   All night long, the woodcutter's wife harped on and on at her husband till,
at dawn, he led Hansel and Gretel away into the forest. But as they went into 
the depths of the trees, Hansel dropped a little white pebble here and there 
on the mossy green ground. At a certain point, the two children found they 
really were alone: the woodcutter had plucked up enough courage to desert 
them, had mumbled an excuse and was gone.

   Night fell but the woodcutter did not return. Gretel began to sob bitterly.
Hansel too felt scared but he tried to hide his feelings and comfort his 
sister.

   "Don't cry, trust me! I swear I'll take you home even if Father doesn t 
come back for us!" Luckily the moon was full that night and Hansel waited till
its cold light filtered through the trees.

   "Now give me your hand!" he said. "We'll get home safely, you'll see!" The 
tiny white pebbles gleamed in the moonlight, and the children found their
way home. They crept through a half-open window, without wakening their 
parents. Cold, tired but thankful to be home again, they slipped into bed.

   Next day, when their stepmother discovered that Hansel and Gretel had 
returned, she went into a rage. Stifling her anger in front of the children, 
she locked her bedroom door, reproachlng her husband for failing to carry out 
her orders. The weak woodcutter protested, torn as he was between shame and 
fear of disobeying his cruel wife. The wicked stepmother kept Hansel and 
Gretel under lock and key all day with nothing for supper but a sip of water 
and some hard bread. All night, husband and wife quarrelled, and when dawn 
came, the woodcutter led the children out into the forest.

   Hansel, however, had not eaten his bread, and as he walked through the 
trees, he left a trail of crumbs behind him to mark the way. But the little 
boy had forgotten about the hungry birds that lived in the forest. When they 
saw him, they flew along behind and in no time at all, had eaten all the 
crumbs. Again, with a lame excuse, the woodcutter left his two children by 
themselves.

   "I've left a trail, like last time!" Hansel whispered to Gretel, 
consolingly. But when night fell, they saw to their horror, that all the 
crumbs had gone.

   "I'm frightened!" wept Gretel bitterly. "I'm cold and hungry and I want to 
go home!"

   "Don't be afraid. I'm here to look after you!" Hansel tried to encourage 
his sister, but he too shivered when he glimpsed frightening shadows and evil 
eyes around them in the darkness. All night the two children huddled together 
for warmth at the foot of a large tree.

   When dawn broke, they started to wander about the forest, seeking a path, 
but all hope soon faded. They were well and truly lost. On they walked and 
walked, till suddenly they came upon a strange cottaae in the middle of a 
glade.

   "This is chocolate!" gasped Hansel as he broke a lump of plaster from the 
wall.

   "And this is icing!" exclaimed Gretel, putting another piece of wall in her
mouth. Starving but delighted, the children began to eat pieces of candy 
broken off the cottage.

   "Isn't this delicious?" said Gretel, with her mouth full. She had never 
tasted anything so nice.

   "We'll stay here," Hansel declared, munching a bit of nougat. They were 
just about to try a piece of the biscuit door when it quietly swung open.

   "Well, well!" said an old woman, peering out with a crafty look. "And 
haven't you children a sweet tooth?"

   "Come in! Come in, you've nothing to fear!" went on the old woman. 
Unluckily for Hansel and Gretel, however, the sugar candy cottage belonged to 
an old witch, her trap for catching unwary victims. The two children had come 
to a really nasty place . . .

   "You're nothing but skin and bones!" said the witch, locking Hansel into a 
cage. I shall fatten you up and eat you!"

   "You can do the housework," she told Gretel grimly, "then I'll make a meal
of you too!" As luck would have it, the witch had very bad eyesight, an when 
Gretel smeared butter on her glasses, she could see even less.

   "Let me feel your finger!" said the witch to Hansel every day to check if 
he was getting any fatter. Now, Gretel had brought her brother a chicken bone,
and when the witch went to touch his finger, Hansel held out the bone.

   "You're still much too thin!" she complained. When will you become plump?" 
One day the witch grew tired of waltlng.

   "Light the oven," she told Gretel. "We're going to have a tasty roasted boy
today!" A little later, hungry and impatient, she went on: "Run and see if the
oven is hot enough." Gretel returned, whimpering: "I can't tell if it is hot
enough or not." Angrily, the wltch screamed at the little girl: "Useless 
child! All right, I'll see for myself." But when the witch bent down to peer
inside the oven and check the heat, Gretel gave her a tremendous push and 
slammed the oven door shut. The witch had come to a fit and proper end. Gretel
ran to set her brother free and they made quite sure that the oven door was 
tightly shut behind the witch. Indeed, just to be on the safe side, they 
fastened it firmly with a large padlock. Then they stayed for several days to 
eat some more of the house, till they discovered amongst the witch's 
belongings, a huge chocolate egg. Inside lay a casket of gold coins.

   "The witch is now burnt to a cinder," said Hansel, "so we'll take this 
treasure with us." They filled a large basket with food and set off into the 
forest to search for the way home. This time, luck was with them, and on the 
second day, they saw their father come out of the house towards them, weeping.

   "Your stepmother is dead. Come home with me now, my dear children!" The two
 children hugged the woodcutter.

   "Promise you'll never ever desert us again," said Gretel, throwing her arms
round her father's neck. Hansel opened the casket.

   "Look, Father! We're rich now . . . You'll never have to chop wood 
again . . ."

   And they all lived happily together ever after.




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