“No, wife,” said the man, “that I will never do. How could I have the heart to leave my children all alone in the wood, where the wild beasts would come quickly and devour them?”
“Oh, you fool,” replied the stepmother, “if you refuse to do this, you know we must all four perish with hunger; you may as well go and cut the wood for our coffins.” And after this she let him have no peace till he became quite worn out, and could not sleep for hours, but lay thinking in sorrow about his children.
The two children, who also were too hungry to sleep, heard all that their stepmother had said to their father. Poor little Grethel wept bitter tears as she listened, and said to her brother, “What is going to happen to us, Hansel?”
“Hush, Grethel,” he whispered, “don’t be so unhappy; I know what to do.”
Then they lay quite still till their parents were asleep.
As soon as it was quiet, Hansel got up, put on his little coat, unfastened the door, and slipped out The moon shone brightly, and the white pebble stones which lay before the cottage door glistened like new silver money. Hansel stooped and picked up as many of the pebbles as he could stuff in his little coat pockets. He then went back to Grethel and said, “Be comforted, dear little sister, and sleep in peace; heaven will take care of us.” Then he laid himself down again in bed, and slept till the day broke.
As soon as the sun was risen, the stepmother came and woke the two children, and said, “Get up, you lazy bones, and come into the wood with me to gather wood for the fire.” Then she gave each of them a piece of bread, and said, “You must keep that to eat for your dinner, and don’t quarrel over it, for you will get nothing more.”
Grethel took the bread under her charge, for Hansel’s pockets were full of pebbles. Then the stepmother led them a long way into the forest. They had gone but a very short distance when Hansel looked back at the house, and this he did again and again.
At last his stepmother said, “Why do you keep staying behind and looking back so?”
“Oh, mother,” said the boy, “I can see my little white cat sitting on the roof of the house, and I am sure she is crying for me.”
“Nonsense,” she replied; “that is not your cat; it is the morning sun shining on the chimney-pot.”
Hansel had seen no cat, but he stayed behind every time to drop a white pebble from his pocket on the ground as they walked.
As soon as they reached a thick part of the wood, their stepmother said:
“Come, children, gather some wood, and I will make a fire, for it is very cold here.”
Then Hansel and Grethel raised quite a high heap of brushwood and faggots, which soon blazed up into a bright fire, and the woman said to them:
“Sit down here, children, and rest, while I go and find your father, who is cutting wood in the forest; when we have finished our work, we will come again and fetch you.”