IS WIFE WOULD listen to nothing he said, but continued to reproach him, and as he had given way to her the first time, he could not refuse to do so now. The children were awake, and heard all the conversation; so, as soon as their parents slept, Hansel got up, intending to go out and gather some more of the bright pebbles to let fall as he walked, that they might point out the way home; but his stepmother had locked the door, and he could not open it. When he went back to his bed he told his little sister not to fret, but to go to sleep in peace, for he was sure they would be taken care of.
Early the next morning the stepmother came and pulled the children out of bed, and, when they were dressed, gave them each a piece of bread for their dinners, smaller than they had had before, and then they started on their way to the wood.
As they walked, Hansel, who had the bread in his pocket, broke off little crumbs, and stopped every now and then to drop one, turning round as if he was looking back at his home.
"Hansel," said the woman, "what are you stopping for in that way? Come along directly."
"I saw my pigeon sitting on the roof, and he wants to say good-bye to me," replied the boy.
"Nonsense," she said; "that is not your pigeon; it is only the morning sun shining on the chimney-top."
But Hansel did not look back any more; he only dropped pieces of bread behind him, as they walked through the wood. This time they went on till they reached the thickest and densest part of the forest, where they had never been before in all their lives. Again they gathered faggots and brushwood, of which the stepmother made up a large fire. Then she said, "Remain here, children, and rest, while I go to help your father, who is cutting wood in the forest; when you feel tired, you can lie down and sleep for a little while, and we will come and fetch you in the evening, when your father has finished his work."
So the children remained alone till mid-day, and then Grethel shared her piece of bread with Hansel, for he had scattered his own all along the road as they walked. After this they slept for awhile, and the evening drew on; but no one came to fetch the poor children. When they awoke it was quite dark, and poor little Grethel was afraid; but Hansel comforted her, as he had done before, by telling her they need only wait till the moon rose. "You know, little sister," he said, "that I have thrown breadcrumbs all along the road we came, and they will easily point out the way home."
But when they went out of the thicket into the moonlight they found no breadcrumbs, for the numerous birds which inhabited the trees of the forest had picked them all up.
Hansel tried to hide his fear when he made this sad discovery, and said to his sister, "Cheer up, Grethel; I dare say we shall find our way home without the crumbs. Let us try." But this they found impossible. They wandered about the whole night, and the next day from morning till evening; but they could not get out of the wood, and were so hungry that had it not been for a few berries which they picked they must have starved.
At last they were so tired that their poor little legs could carry them no farther; so they laid themselves down under a tree and went to sleep. When they awoke it was the third morning since they had left their father's house, and they determined to try once more to find their way home; but it was no use, they only went still deeper into the wood, and knew that if no help came they must starve.
About noon, they saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on the branch of a tree, and singing so beautifully that they stood still to listen. When he had finished his song, he spread out his wings and flew on before them. The children followed him, till at last they saw at a distance a small house; and the bird flew and perched on the roof.
But how surprised were the boy and girl, when they came nearer, to find that the house was built of gingerbread, and ornamented with sweet cakes and tarts, while the window was formed of barley-sugar. "Oh!" exclaimed Hansel, "let us stop here and have a splendid feast. I will have a piece from the roof first, Grethel; and you can eat some of the barley-sugar window, it tastes so nice." Hansel reached up on tiptoe, and breaking off a piece of the gingerbread, he began to eat with all his might, for he was very hungry. Grethel seated herself on the doorstep, and began munching away at the cakes of which it was made. Presently a voice came out of the cottage:
"Munching, crunching, munching,
Who's eating up my house?"
Then answered the children:
"The wind, the wind,
Only the wind,"
and went on eating as if they never meant to leave off, without a suspicion of wrong. Hansel, who found the cake on the roof taste very good, broke off another large piece, and Grethel had just taken out a whole pane of barley-sugar from the window, and seated herself to eat it, when the door opened, and a strange-looking old woman came out leaning on a stick.
Hansel and Grethel were so frightened that they let fall what they held in their hands. The old woman shook her head at them, and said, "Ah, you dear children, who has brought you here? Come in, and stay with me for a little while, and there shall no harm happen to you." She seized them both by the hands as she spoke, and led them into the house. She gave them for supper plenty to eat and drink—milk and pancakes and sugar, apples and nuts; and when evening came, Hansel and Grethel were shown two beautiful little beds with white curtains, and they lay down in them and thought they were in heaven.
But although the old woman pretended to be friendly, she was a wicked witch, who had her house built of gingerbread on purpose to entrap children. When once they were in her power, she would feed them well till they got fat, and then kill them and cook them for her dinner; and this she called her feast-day. Fortunately the witch had weak eyes, and could not see very well; but she had a very keen scent, as wild animals have, and could easily discover when human beings were near. As Hansel and Grethel had approached her cottage, she laughed to herself maliciously, and said, with a sneer: "I have them now; they shall not escape from me again!"