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“A feast!” Hansel cried, and reached up to break off a stick of candy, while Gretel licked at the sugary window panes.
Suddenly a voice called from inside, “Tip tap, who raps at my door?”
“The wind,” the children answered, but the old woman who lived inside was no fool. She hobbled outside, and when Hansel and Gretel saw her, they were so afraid they let their candies fall.
“Children,” the woman said sweetly, “come inside and I’ll make you a meal.” This she did, and afterward she took them to a pretty little room with beds covered in white satin spreads. Hansel and Gretel were so exhausted, they fell at once into a peaceful sleep.
The old woman acted kindly, but she was really a witch who captured and ate lost children. She had a witch’s poor eyesight and strong sense of smell. “Ha ha,” she cackled to herself. “They’ll make a fine feast, they will.”
The next morning she took Hansel and locked him in a cage. Next she shook Gretel awake and forced her to fix her brother a huge meal. “I’m going to fatten him up,” the witch said, “and when he’s good and fat, I’ll cook him.”
Gretel cried, but the witch forced her to do as she said. Every morning the witch called into the cage, “Show me your finger, Hansel, so I can see how fat you are growing.”
Hansel was wise, and so he stretched out a bone instead of his finger. The witch, who could barely see, thought the bone was his finger, and she wondered why he never grew fat. When four weeks had passed and Hansel’s finger was still as thin as a bone, the witch lost all her patience.
“Gretel,” she screeched, “boil the kettle. Fat or thin, I will cook Hansel this morning.”
Gretel cried, but she filled the kettle and made a fire and heated the oven.
“Now,” the witch said, “creep into the oven, dearie, and see if it is hot enough to bake our bread. We’ll have bread with our Hansel.” Of course she intended to shut the door as soon as Gretel climbed inside, but Gretel was wise, too. “How should I get in?” she asked.
“Fool,” the witch said, “through this opening,” and she stuck her head inside to show Gretel how large it was. Gretel immediately pushed the witch into the oven and bolted the door behind her.
Gretel freed Hansel, and together they gathered every jewel and precious stone and pearl they could find in the house. They filled their pockets and apron with these and walked into the forest again.
When they came to a large lake, Hansel said, “I see no bridge or boat, Gretel. There’s no way to cross.”
But Gretel called out to a passing duck, “Little Duck, Gretel and Hansel here we stand, won’t you take us back to land?”
The duck carried the children, one at a time, across the lake, and the children walked on until at last they came to their father’s house. When their father saw them, he wept with joy, for he had not had one moment of happiness since they left. Their stepmother had died of hunger and unhappiness.
Now Gretel shook her apron and Hansel emptied his pockets, and all the pearls and precious stones and jewels fell out. The family’s sorrows had come to an end, and they lived together happily ever after.
Read Part One here
Story By: Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson