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Hansel and Gretel

retold by Robert Hoffman

Near the edge of the old forest, where long shadows hide unspeakable evil, is nestled a small cottage. At one time the cottage was attractive and neat. At one time the cottage had known great happiness within its walls.

When the woodcutter who lived there built the cottage, he did so for his bride. Although the cottage was built of common materials, it appeared all the more attractive because it was built with love.

Shortly after the wedding feast, the couple had moved in. His bride was blooming with youth and her blonde hair was the envy of every woman who saw her. He was tall, strong and handsome. For years they lived happily within the cottage. Times were good and they were blessed with two beautiful children: a boy, Hansel; and a girl, Gretel. Both were blonde like their mother but favored their father in their faces. Nothing could be better for they had all they desired.

Then, as things sometimes happen, the woman became sick with fever and died. The woodcutter's ax and saw lay idle for many months while he comforted his children. The woodcutter, left alone with two young children, didn't know what to do. In his haste to find a mother for his children, he married badly. While his new bride was attractive -- her heart was as black as the nights in the old forest.

The old forest had held little fear for the children when their mother was there to comfort them, but with her absence it had become something much more evil. Now instead of friendly shadows there were whispers and hushed voices coming from the forest at night. Before, when their father would leave with his ax and saws, the children did not worry. Now, they fretted all day about whether he would return at night.

When the children were tucked into their loft bedrooms at night, they could hear strange noises as the winds cried through the tattered leaves of the trees. Gretel would often cry and Hansel would try his best to comfort his little sister. "Gretel, there is nothing to fear. I am here to protect you as is father. Please don't cry."

Sometimes the words worked. Sometimes they did not. But even Hansel felt the claws of fear rake his back as the winds howled, but he knew he must be strong for his little sister.

If the market for their father's wood had not started disappearing -- things might still have been good. But, for some reason, the weather would not cooperate with the woodcutter. Instead of turning cold and bitter, the warm weather continued long into the year. Even Christmas day dawned sunny and bright and there was no need of a fire during the day for the sun warmed the house comfortably.

It was not too long before the family had used up their small store of resources. The woodcutter and his wife took to bickering constantly about the lack of money. Meat disappeared from their table, except when their father could shoot something with his bow, and instead the family lived on bread -- and very little of that.

One day, something changed. When the woodcutter returned from his days labor and was greeted by his children, the tears welled in his eyes and dribbled down his ruddy cheeks. He took one in each arm and hugged them so tightly it was hard for them to breathe. Lamenting he would say, "If only there were some other way. If only there were some other way."

The children hugged him back but did not understand the dire meaning of his words. That is until one night when Hansel heard his father and step-mother arguing from their little room in the loft. He crept to the edge, being careful not to drop the hay down onto the main floor, and listened.

"Are you telling me I must take the children into the woods and let them fend for themselves? I won't do it!"

"Then what will we do, husband, starve? You know it is the only way."

"But they are my children. I love them!"

"And I am you wife -- love me!"

"I cannot. For if we are to die from starvation -- I would rather we went together."

"Then, woodcutter, I will leave." Saying this the step-mother went into her closet and brought out her satchel and began placing her meager possessions inside. The woodcutter looked at her and then up at where his children were sleeping and could not decide between the two. As she was placing the last of her belongings in the bag she said, "What's the problem? I believe that some rich man will find them and they will grow up rich and lacking for nothing. It is for certain that you cannot provide for them, why not take the chance and see if providence will reward them?"

Though her words were harsh -- they did contain an element of truth. He was poor and was likely to remain poor. Maybe this was an opportunity for the children. Turning to her he said, "Let me think about overnight. If we decide to do it, we cannot do it before morning anyway."

She agreed and they went to bed and slept soundly.

Gretel heard their talk and started sobbing. Creeping back quietly, Hansel held her in his arms and said, "Listen, I will wait until they are asleep. I have a plan that will work. Don't worry about it, Little Sister, I will take care of you."

Though she didn't feel particularly sleepy, she stretched out in the bed and was soon asleep. Hansel stayed on the edge of the loft looking out of the front window. He saw the moon rise and then watched as it moved from one corner of the window to the other. Soon, it had disappeared altogether and he crept down the ladder to the main floor as quietly as he could.

As he passed his sleeping parents he held his breath lest his fearful breathing should give him away. Moving quietly to the door he pulled the latch and walked into the night.

The moon, though it had passed from the view of the window, was still high in the sky. As Hansel looked toward the forest he could see it sliced into pieces by the bare branches of the trees of the old forest. Deep within the forest he heard the mournful cry of an owl.

The moon cast its pale light on the cluster of white stones surrounding Hansel's mother's flower bed and glittered brightly. Reaching down, he took several handfuls of the bright stones and placed them into his jacket pocket. When he was done his jacket was heavy and felt awkward. Adjusting the amount of stones until he had the same amount in each pocket -- he quietly returned to bed.

Creeping back into the house was even more terrifying than it been when he was leaving. The night was disturbed by his step-mother's breathing and the silence was mingled with occasional groans from his father. When he was nearly past their door, she sat upright in bed and said, "Who is it! Who is there?"

Hansel stopped moving immediately and stood as still as he possibly could. The seconds passed and Hansel searched the dark room to see if his step-mother was stirring. In spite of the cold night air, sweat formed on his brow and ran into his eyes. Knowing that if he moved now; all would be lost, he continued to stand statue-like in the stillness of the night.

Finally, she fell back in the bed with a sigh and in a few minutes Hansel heard her breathing become more regular as she fell back asleep.

Hansel eased up the ladder to the loft and smiling at his sister, got into the bed and tried to sleep. It was not easy for there were many things bothering him this night: 'Would his plan work? What would happen if his step-mother found out that he was leaving a trail of stones?' His body longed for sleep but his mind refused.

In the night everything seemed magnified. He felt the cold night air seep through the chinks in the house. Bringing his thin blanket up to his chin, he tried to stay warm. Night noises were everywhere. Every time the wind blew, the housed shuddered and creaked. Each noise increased his discomfort and he longed for morning -- if only to get it over with.

When the sun finally crept through the very window that Hansel had watched the moon from, it was time to get up. Obviously his father had reached a decision in the night and greeted them cheerily. "Hansel, Gretel, we have decided we should all go into the forest today. Won't that be fun? Your mother . . ."

"Step-mother, father."

"All right, Step-mother has packed a lunch for us. It will be exciting. Come on, you two, we have to get going. Hurry!"

The path loomed before them and Gretel walked hand in hand with her father. Hansel dawdled behind. His step-mother said, "What are you doing, Hansel? If you don't go any faster than that we will not have time to fill the few orders we have."

"I am sorry. I thought I saw my dear kitten on the roof on the house."

"Silly boy, that cat ran away weeks ago. It is only the sun shining on the chimney. Now hurry!"

Secretly, Hansel was dropping stone after stone along the edge of the path. Being careful to hide them from plain view, but still clear enough to find with only the light of the moon to guide them was not easy. He had decided it would be necessary to drop one every thirty steps or so.

Finally, his step-mother got disgusted and took his hand in her's and pulled him along behind her. Though it was difficult to place the stones while moving at such a pace -- he managed.

When they arrived at the site where her father would work that day -- it was nearly noon. Gretel's stomach groaned loudly and she whispered to Hansel, "I'm hungry."

"I know. Listen, why don't you eat my bread? I don't need it and there is precious little enough for one, let alone for both of us."

"Hansel, I don't want you to suffer."

"Forget about it. I am fine. Come and sit by this tree and we will rest for a while."

The forest seemed almost festive in the clearing where they sat. The beams of sunlight splashed on the forest floor. In the distance they could hear their father's ax as it bit into the tree. The chopping was rhythmic and it soon lulled them to sleep. They believed that as long as they could hear their father working they were safe. They were wrong. The noise they heard was the pounding of a dead branch on the hollow trunk of one of the trees.

When they awoke with a start the forest no longer seemed pleasant. Instead the rays of sunlight came slanting through the trees and were barely strong enough to reach the forest floor. The noise that had helped bring sleep was gone. In its place was silence. Not even a bird or squirrel disturbed the awful silence. Even the trees which very seldom stopped swaying were still. Gretel called out,"Father, father, where are you?"

Her voice echoed in the silence and came back to mock her. With tears streaming she turned to Hansel and said, "Are we alone?"

"It appears as though we are. Listen, Gretel, the sun will set in moment. We should get going. Try not to be scared -- there is nothing to worry about."

Taking her hand he led her onto the path. The stones, although some were hidden too well, led them toward home. Their walking disturbed the silent dusk and they tried to move more quietly. Even with their best efforts the noise continued. The feeling that they were disturbing something in the old forest that wanted to be left alone was overwhelming. It was as if the sounds whispered, "Be still, Children, we want to be alone!"

The stones gleamed in the light from the rising moon and Hansel and Gretel moved quickly down the path toward home. As quickly as they were moving, they longed to move faster. After hours of careful movement down the path the light through the window of their cottage could be seen.

Hansel led the way to the door and knocked softly. "What is it?" Their father said.

"Father, let us in."

The door opened quickly and Hansel and Gretel rushed into their father's arms. He hugged them tightly. Their step-mother rose from her spinning and scolded them harshly, "Where have you been you naughty children? We looked everywhere for you. What do you mean running off like that?"

"But, Step-mother, we didn't run off. You left us!"

She rose from her stool and crossed the room quickly with her eyes ablaze. She would have surely boxed Hansel's ears if their father had not stepped between them. "Woman, what's done is done. I am glad to have my children home. Now fix them something to eat. They must be starved."

The soup was warm and tasty and soon the children were full and climbed the ladder to the loft once more. Gretel was asleep almost at once but Hansel wanted to know what was going on.

"Well, husband, they came back. We shall just have to take them tomorrow."

"No. No, we will not do that. I let you talk me into that once but never again. I have been miserable all day. Now that my darlings have returned, I will not make the same mistake again.

Things turned better for a while. Although the weather was still warm for January -- even warm weather for January is still cold. The market for wood increased and the woodcutter was busy from morning till evening. Often he would not return from the forest until after the sun had set. Food was more plentiful and Gretel even tried to help her step-mother keep the house. Though her mother was not kind to her, nor was she mean. She treated Hansel and Gretel as if they were unwelcome guests.

Then, as if to further mock them, the spring came early. The cold nights of January and February turned to warm evenings in March. The family soon began to run out of food. The wife began nagging her husband to do something about their problem. In the evening, Hansel took to staying awake to hear what evil the step-mother had planned for them.

One night, though Hansel was by the railing -- he did not need to be. The argument was loud and clear. The woodcutter soon shed tears to try and convince the woman to stay. But, what was done once must be done twice. Reluctantly he agreed to abandon the children to providence once more.

Hansel waited till all was still and moved quietly down the ladder. The moonlight through the window guided his steps as he moved to the door. When he went to pull the latch, it would not move. Trying harder, he was still unsuccessful. The step-mother had fixed the door so only an adult could open it. The thought that Hansel had found a way to mark their path into the woods would not leave her alone. In her haste to rid herself of the burdensome children she had closed the door and blocked it.

Hansel moved quietly across the room toward the ladder. The light from the moon showed him his step-mother sitting up in bed. Though he could not see it, he knew she had a large evil smile on her face. Gretel turned over and whispered, "Did you get the stones?"

"I could not -- she blocked the door."

"What are we going to do, Hansel?"

"I will think of something just try to go to sleep."

In the morning the step-mother gave each a crust of bread and said, "This is all you will get for the day so don't eat it up right away."

The path into the forest lay before them and occasionally Hansel would stop. "Hansel, why are you stopping?"

"I thought I saw my pet dove coming back home."

'Don't be ridiculous. That dove has been gone for nearly six months. It will not come back. It is only the sun on the chimney."

But, Hansel was breaking off pieces of his bread and placing them carefully so they could find their way back once again. This time his effort was doomed to failure for nearly as quickly as the bread was dropped a bird would swoop down and eat it.

Tired and exhausted from their long walk, the children fell asleep with their backs resting on the trunk of a large tree. When they finally woke up it was nearly dark. Hansel, confident his plan has worked once more, took his little sister by the hand and started leading her out of the forest. But, no matter how hard he looked he could not find any of crumbs. When the tears welled in Gretel's eyes he comforted her by saying,"I don't need them anyway. I can find my way home without them."

"Can you really, Hansel?"

"Of course the path is this way." Taking her hand he led her quickly toward what he believed was the path. He was wrong for instead of moving out of the forest they began moving deeper into the heart of the dark and evil wood.

All night long they continued their journey. Finally, when they could walk no more they rested. Sleep found them once more and when the sun managed to burn through the mist to wake them-- it was well into the next day. Though Hansel had no idea of where they were, he tried to be brave. "Come on Gretel, I know we must be close. I can feel it."

After nearly two hours of walking their stomachs began to grumble hungrily. In the distance Gretel saw a flash of light. "Hansel, did you see that?"

"What?" He mumbled unhappily.

"That flash of light. I think it might have been from the window on our house. Come on, let's run!"

Before he could say anything, she ran ahead of him. Running more quickly so he could catch up to her left him nearly breathless and when he had caught up with her, he reached his hand out and took her arm." Slow down a little. If it is our cottage it is not going anywhere."

Gretel slowed down a little. When she pointed to where she had seen the flash of light, Hansel saw it as well. Thinking they had nothing more to fear, they began to run once more.

The light was more clear now and they increased their efforts. When they finally saw the house where the light came from they stopped. Never in their lives had they seen anything so wonderful. The house was beautiful beyond belief.

The crystal windows gleamed in the bright sunlight. At each of the windows was a flower box filled with the most beautifully colored flowers the children had ever seen. It was as if God's rainbow had touched the small cottage and left presents in the window boxes.

The roof was bright yellow in the light and the children wanted so much to be near the house they neglected to heed the words their father had often told them, "Be careful of strangers, for you don't know what they want." With happy hearts they tripped over the stone pathway to the front door.

Gretel went to the flower boxes and stood on her toes to smell their fragrance. When Hansel saw her break one of the blossoms off and take a bite out of it, he said, "What are you doing, Gretel, they may be poison?"

"I don't think so. To me they taste like candy. When I smelled them, all I could think of was the candy store in town where father took us that one time. You remember?"

"Of course I remember. But, how can they be flowers and candy?"

"I don't know. Here, have one."

Hansel took the blossom in his hand and sniffed it suspiciously. It did smell like the candy store in town. Carefully he broke off a small piece of the flower and tasted it -- it was marvelous. Without hesitation he took another bite. Soon he joined her by the flower box and began to pick blossom after blossom to eat. The children were both hungry and the food tasted all the more special because of their hunger.

As they were about to investigate further they heard a noise behind them. At first it seemed as if an animal was scratching at the stones but when they turned, there was an old woman.

Though they could not see her face because of the cloak she wore, she was bent and leaned on a stick. Clearing her throat she said, " So what are you children doing to my house?"

"We were hungry," Gretel said,"And it smelled so good."

"Well, that may be but there is a price to everything. Are you willing to pay?"

"We have no money, Grandmother, what shall we pay with?"

"We shall see . . . "

The old woman reached our her hand toward Hansel. As she reached her cloak fell on her forearm and Hansel saw her fingers -- long and boney as they reached toward him. The nails were yellow and curled and he could see her veins pulse. On each finger she wore a ring and in the bright morning sunshine they shined brightly. Each hand was covered with brown spots and the fingers curled toward her palms so they looked not so much like hands as claws.

Grasping Hansel by the shoulder she pushed him toward the barn at the back of the cottage. Taking her other hand she pinched his first finger and said," Well, you are far too skinny. I guess I will have to fatten you up some. Come along, boy."

When they arrived at the barn the door opened mysteriously with a soft creak. Hansel felt himself being pushed faster and faster and when they reached the back of the barn she forced him to his knees. Using her stick she hit him soundly on the bottom until he scooted into the enclosure.

The enclosure looked like a kennel and Hansel started to say, "I don't want to go in . . ."

But his words were cut short by another blow from the walking stick." Well, little boy, I guess you should have thought of that before you took something that didn't belong to you."

Gretel, who had been following quietly began to move toward her brother. The old woman stopped her and said,"Leave him alone. He is mine."

Gretel did not want to listen to her and started moving past. The old woman grabbed her by the hair and jerked it back. Gretel could not believe how strong the old lady was. She stumbled over a loose board and sprawled on the wooden floor. The old woman closed the door to the kennel quickly and locked it with a heavy lock.

Turning toward Gretel she grabbed her by the arm and led her roughly into the house. As they passed through the door to the barn the old woman said, "Door once opened, now be closed. Never open again, until you are told."

Gretel glanced behind her a watched as the door silently closed. Using the opportunity of having the old woman distracted, she ran back to the barn and jerked on the handle. Although there was nothing holding it shut, it would not open. Trying as hard as she could had no effect on the door -- it remained closed.

The old woman laughed in the background, "Did you think my spells are so easily broken? You are wrong. Now come here before I change you into a toad."

Gretel had no choice but to join the old lady. Walking in front of her she heard the lady mumble behind her and the door to the cottage opened mysteriously.

The darkness of the room was the thing that Gretel noticed first. Although the cottage had windows, they were only for show. Inside all was dark except for the light from a small fire in the fireplace and two candles: one on a table and the other near a bed.

"Sit while I make your brother something to eat. He is far too thin for my liking. I like my boys to be stocky -- almost pudgy. It seems to me that we will have to fatten him up a bit before . . ."

"Before what, Grandmother?"

"Just before it is time. Don't concern yourself about such things. They are my concern and not for you to worry about. Get some wood from the box by the fireplace, we must build a fire. It is obvious that we have a lot of cooking to do."

Gretel walked slowly across the room and started picking up an armload of the wood. The old lady frowned and cast another spell, The wood started rising from pile and Gretel held her arms out as the pieces of wood stacked themselves neatly in her arms. If she had not been so scared she might have laughed at the way they lifted themselves from the wood box and danced gently on the air before landing with a thunk in her arms. Piece after piece followed until her arms began to ache from the weight. "Grandmother, I don't think I can carry any more, please stop."

"Very well. Bring it along quickly and build a fire in the stove. It is too late in the day to do any baking so we will use the stove not the oven today."

Gretel moved slowly toward the kitchen. In the darkness of the room she imagined she was stepping on all manner of objects. Once her foot came in contact with what felt like a piece of thick rope. But when she tried to step on it, the rope moved. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the snake curl and strike out at her. She started running toward the kitchen and was relieved to dump the wood into the wood box by the old iron stove.

Taking several pieces in her hands she stacked them in the stove. When she had placed enough wood for a fire she looked around for the matches. Not seeing any she asked," How then shall I light the fire?"

"You won't. I will." Saying that the old woman pointed her finger toward the opening in the firebox of the stove and a light began to form at the end. Gretel watched in amazement as the light intensified. It glowed green in the darkness. Brighter and brighter her finger glowed until the light from it clearly lit the small room. Just when Gretel didn't think it could get any brighter, the light moved slowly from the old woman's finger to the stove. It was like it was a dandelion seed borne on a pleasant spring breeze. When it settled on the wood there was a tremendous crack. The noise was loud enough to hurt Gretel's ears and she placed her hands over them and watched as the wood caught on fire. In only a moment the entire load of wood she had placed in the stove was on fire.

"Bring me that large pot, girl."

As Gretel moved to pick up the large pot hanging on the hook above the stove, the old woman joined her. When the old woman had placed the pot on the stove she said, "Now, go pump some water."

Gretel moved to the sink and started pumping the handle. In only a matter of moments she had a full stream pouring out. The old woman took a pitcher from the cupboard and filled it. Moving carefully across the room she poured it in and it made a tremendous hiss as the cold water met the hot pot.

For the next twenty minutes Gretel followed her directions and made a large pot of stew. Even though Gretel was more scared than she had ever been, she was still hungry and good food smells starting filling the kitchen. When the pot was filled to the top with vegetables and meat, the old lady went back to the main room and sat. Gretel tried to hide in the corner of the kitchen but the woman called her into the main room. "Sit, child, you must be tired from your ordeal.

We will have a good dinner in a little while."

The silence of the room was uncomfortable. Gretel wanted to speak but had nothing to say. The old woman appeared to be sleeping. Her eyes were closed and her breathing became more regular. When Gretel was sure she was sleeping, she rose from the tiny chair and started walking toward the door. Keeping a close eye on the woman she moved as quietly as she could. The old woman still slept and Gretel began to feel her heart beat faster. The idea that she might be able to escape the old woman, free her brother and escape to the forest filled her mind and quickened her steps.

As she was passing by the sleeping old woman, she held her breath. Afraid that any noise would waken her, she moved even more quietly. As she passed by the chair where the old lady slept, her eyes never left the old woman's face. Still seeing no reaction she began to run toward the door. When her fingers closed on the latch she gave a tremendous sigh of relief.

The night air was cool and she ran to the barn. Opening the door she said, "Hansel, Hansel, are you awake?"

"I am here, Gretel. Where's the old woman?"

"Sleeping. We have to get out of here."

"Open the door, we will take our chances in the old forest."

Gretel's hand closed on the latch and tried to pull the door open. It refused to move. She tried harder. "Hansel, try pushing from your side."

Hansel rushed to comply and together they tried to force the door open. It simply would not move. "Try harder, Hansel."

With their renewed effort the door began to move slightly. The children were so involved in trying to open the door that they failed to notice the old woman standing behind them. The stick she held in her hand lashed out and hit Gretel soundly on her bottom and she screamed.

"Get back in the house, girl, or you will join your brother right now."

With tears in her eyes she rushed past the old lady and returned to the house. The old woman did not say a word but followed quickly.

The days fell into a steady pattern. Gretel would cook all day and the witch would bring the food to Hansel. Each day she would ask him to stick his finger though the cage so she could see how fat he was getting. The first times she had done this, the children did not know what she was doing. Eventually Gretel realized she was trying to see if he were fat enough. It was obvious that the witch could not see very well so Gretel found an old twig and slipped it to Hansel when the witch wasn't looking. Instead of his finger, he now stuck the stick through the cage. The witch would feel it and mumble, "What is going on? This boy should be fat"

Day after day they fooled her until one day she said, "I cannot wait any longer. The time has come." Returning to the house she said, "The oven's fire should be lit right away, bigger than ever.."


"Never mind. Just do what I ask."

Gretel loaded the wood from the wood box into the oven. When she had used it all, the witch came over and felt the amount she had place. "That's not enough. We will need more. Go to the woodpile and fill the stove."

Gretel made three trips to the wood pile to retrieve enough wood to satisfy the witch. The last box of wood she brought in was wet. She knew it would be hard to light, but she didn't care. When the witch stuck her long fingers with the yellow nails in and felt the amount of wood, she was satisfied. "Now you must light it. Do it now!"

Gretel struck match after match but they all failed to light the wood. The witch got a cloudy look on her face and rushed past her. The green light from her magic filled the small room and the fire soon sputtered to life. The witch noticed the wet wood and frowned. "Why did you use wet wood, my dear?" Though it was a question, it did not require an answer. The witch moved away from the oven and smilingly said, "It doesn't matter. It will burn."

Gretel returned to the main room and sat on the small chair. The witch appeared to sleep but she was watching Gretel through half-closed eyes. After nearly an hour she sat up and said, " I want you to go and see if the oven is hot enough."

Gretel moved quietly into the kitchen. Opening the door to the oven she felt the heat on her cheeks. Trying to think of something that could save her poor brother she finally decided on a plan. "Grandmother, I cannot tell. It might be hot enough, but I am not sure. How do you tell?"

"Stick your head in and see if it is warm."

"It is too high. Can you come and show me?"

"In a moment. I have to get your skinny brother first."

Gretel heard the door open and in a few minutes the witch returned with Hansel. He was much fatter than he had been and seeing the witch pinching his upper arm, Gretel knew that the witch realized a trick had been played on her. But, seeing the smile on her face, Gretel knew that she didn't care any more.

"You two stay here. I want to check the oven myself."

The witch moved past them and pulled the heavy oven door down. Stepping on a small stool she leaned into the oven.

Gretel, seeing her only chance, rushed into the kitchen and pushed the witch's back as hard as she could. The witch was on the edge of the oven and her legs kicked out. Gretel shouted, "Come quick, Hansel, take the stool!"

Hansel rushed to comply and Gretel, using all of her strength grabbed the witch by the ankles and shoved her into the oven. When her foot had cleared the door, Gretel slammed the door and closed the latch. The howls of pain from the oven shook the walls. Hansel looked at her and asked, "Why are you doing this?"

"Don't you get it? She was going to cook you."

The two children ran out of the cottage to escape the howls of pain. Stopping just out of earshot, Hansel was surprised with a beautiful bird flew over his head and dropped a jewel to him He picked it up and looked through it at the sun. The ruby was a beautiful red and he took it and placed it in his pocket. Soon another bird flew by and dropped a green stone. Hansel looked at the emerald and placed it in his pocket. Soon the sky was filled with birds dropping gem stones to the children. Finally one of the birds settled on Gretel's shoulder and spoke into her ear, "We took the bread crumbs from before. But, in payment for ridding the forest of the old witch, we offer these jewels. They mean little to us but perhaps they may be of some use to you and your family. Saying this, the bird took to the sky and was soon out of sight.

Their pockets were filled with precious stones and they began to walk. Just ahead of them, within easy viewing distance, the most beautiful blue bird flew. Gretel knew, though she could never say how she knew, that the bird would lead them out of the forest.

All that day they walked following the bird until the long shadows hid their steps. Finally they could see the smoke from a small chimney and they recognized their home. Happily they ran to the door and knocked. Their father greeted them with tears in his eyes. After hugging them so tightly they could hardly breathe, he said, "I am afraid that your step-mother has left. I am here alone. But, I will do the best I can to make sure that you are taken care of."

"Father, Gretel and I have a surprise." Saying this the children poured out the contents of their pockets on the kitchen table. The jewels glistened in the light from the candle and their father hugged them again. The hug was more certain this time for he knew that they would live happily on the money the jewels would bring.

The End

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