64 HANSEL AND GRETHEL
sat talking together over their sorrow, and the poor husband sighed and said to his wife, who was not the mother of his children, but their stepmother, " What will become of us, for I cannot earn enough to support myself and you, much less the children ? what shall we do with them, for they must not starve ?"
" I know what to do, husband," she replied j " early to-morrow morning we will take the children for a walk across the forest and leave them in the thickest part, they will never find the way home again you may depend, and then we shall only have to work for ourselves."
H 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 fooly 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."