Once upon a time there dwelt near a large wood a poor woodcutter, with his wife and two children by his former marriage, a little boy called Hansel, and a girl named Grethel. He had little enough to break or bite; and once, when there was a great famine in the land, he could not procure even his daily bread; and as he lay thinking in his bed one evening, rolling about for trouble, he sighed, and said to his wife, “What will become of us? How can we feed our children, when we have no more than we can eat ourselves?”
“Know, then, my husband,” answered she, “we will lead them away, quite early in the morning, into the thickest part of the wood, and there make them a fire, and give them each a little piece of bread; then we will go to our work, and leave them alone, so they will not find the way home again, and we shall be freed from them.” “No, wife,” replied he, “that I can never do. How can you bring your heart to leave my children all alone in the wood, for the wild beasts will soon come and tear them to pieces?”
“Oh, you simpleton!” said she, “then we must all four die of hunger; you had better plane the coffins for us.” But she left him no peace till he consented, saying, “Ah, but I shall regret the poor children.”
The two children, however, had not gone to sleep for very hunger, and so they overheard what the stepmother said to their father. Grethel wept bitterly, and said to Hansel, “What will become of us?” “Be quiet, Grethel,” said he; “do not cry – I will soon help you.” And as soon as their parents had fallen asleep, he got up, put on his coat, and, unbarring the back door, slipped out. The moon shone brilliantly, and the white pebbles which lay before the door seemed like silver pieces, they glittered so brightly. Hansel stooped down, and put as many into his pocket as it would hold; and then going
back, he said to Grethel, “Be comforted, dear sister, and sleep in peace; God will not forsake us.” And so saying, he went to bed again.
The next morning, before the sun arose, the wife went and awoke the two children. “Get up, you lazy things; we are going into the forest to chop wood.” Then she gave them each a piece of bread, saying, “There is something for your dinner; do not eat it before the time, for you will get nothing else.” Grethel took the bread in her apron, for Hansel’s pocket was full of pebbles; and so they all set out upon their way. When they had gone a little distance, Hansel stood still, and peeped back at the house; and this he repeated several times, till his father said, “Hansel, what are you peeping at, and why do you lag behind? Take care, and remember your legs.”
“Ah, father,” said Hansel, “I am looking at my white cat sitting upon the roof of the house, and trying to say good-bye.” “You simpleton!” said the wife, “that is not a cat; it is only the sun shining on the white chimney.” But in reality Hansel was not looking at a cat; but every time he stopped, he dropped a pebble out of his pocket upon the path.
When they came to the middle of the forest, the father told the children to collect wood, and he would make them a fire, so that they should not be cold. So Hansel and Grethel gathered together quite a little mountain of twigs. Then they set fire to them; and as the flame burnt up high, the wife said, “Now, you children, lie down near the fire, and rest yourselves, while we go into the forest and chop wood; when we are ready, I will come and call you.”