The Two Children and the Witch
(A Portuguese Tale)
THERE was once a woman who had a son and a daughter. The mother one day sent her son to buy five reis' worth of beans, and then said to both: "My children, go as far out on the road as you shall find shells of beans strewed on the path, and when you reach the wood you will find me there collecting fire-wood." The children did as they were bid; and after the mother had gone out they went following the track of the beans which she went strewing along the road, but they did not find her in the wood or anywhere else. As night had come on they perceived in the darkness a light shining at a distance, easy of access. They walked on towards it, and they soon came up to an old woman who was frying cakes. The old woman was blind of one eye, and the boy went on the blind side and stole a cake, because he felt so hungry. Believing that it was her cat which had stolen the cake, she said, "You thief of a cat! leave my cakes alone; they are not meant for you!" The little boy now said to his sister, "You go now and take a cake." But the little girl replied, "I cannot do so, as I am sure to laugh." Still, as the boy persisted upon it and urged her to try, she had no other alternative but to do so. She went on the side of the old woman's blind eye and stole another of her cakes. The old woman, again thinking that it was her cat, said, "Be off! shoo you old pussy; these cakes are not meant for you!" The little girl now burst out into a fit of laughter, and the old hag turning round then, noticed the two children, and addressed them thus: "Ah! is it you, my dear grandchildren? Eat, eat away, and get fat!" She then took hold of them and thrust them into a large box full of chestnuts, and shut them up. Next day she came close to the box and spoke to them thus: "Show me your little fingers, my pets, that I may be able to judge whether you have grown fat and sleek." The children put out their little fingers as desired. But next day the old hag again asked them: "Show your little fingers, my little dears, that I may see if you have grown fat and plump!" The children, instead of their little fingers, showed her the tail of a cat they had found inside the box. The old hag then said: "My pets, you can come out now, for you have grown nice and plump." She took them out of the box, and told them they must go with her and gather sticks. The children went into the wood searching one way while the old hag took another direction. When they had arrived at a certain spot they met a fay. This fay said to them: "You are gathering sticks, my children, to heat the oven, but you do not know that the old hag wants to bake you in it." She further told them that the old witch meant to order them to stand on the baker's peel, saying: "Stand on this peel, my little pets, that I may see you dance in the oven; but that they were to ask her to sit upon it herself first, that so they might learn the way to do it. The fay then went away. Shortly after they had met this good lady they found the old witch in the wood. They gathered together in bundles all the fire-sticks they had collected, and carried them home to heat the oven. When they had finished heating the oven, the old hag swept it carefully out, and then said to the little ones, "Sit here, my little darlings, on this peel, that I may see how prettily you dance in the oven!" The children replied to the witch as the good fay had instructed them: "Sit you here, little granny, that we may first see you dance in the oven." As the hag's intention was to bake the children, she sat on the peel first, so as to coax them to do the same after her; but the very moment the children saw her on the peel they thrust the peel into the oven with the witch upon it. The old hag gave a great start, and was burnt to a cinder immediately after. The children took possession of the shed and all it contained.
Another version:--There was once three brothers who went along a certain road. When night overtook them they saw a light at a distance, and so they walked on towards it until they came to it. The light proceeded from a spot where an old woman was frying some cakes. The brothers said one to another, "Let us get upon the roof." They made a very long hook-stick, and got upon the roof. As the old hag fried her cakes she placed them upon a dish by her. Her cat, meanwhile, sat by her side. The boys with their long hook, from the top of the roof, fished up the warm cakes one after the other, as the old hag placed them on the dish. As the cat was by her side, and every time she placed a cake on the dish she found the other gone, she kept repeating and exclaiming:-" Shoo, you naughty thief of a pussy, how can you manage to eat so many cakes?" These brothers were consecrated to St. Peter, and when they heard what the old hag said, they began to laugh, unable to suppress their merriment. The old hag, looking up towards the roof, startled, saw the boys, and told them to come down. The boys feared to do so, and refused to descend; but the old witch so managed to threaten, and then to cajole them, that she at last induced them to come down from the roof. When she saw them down she addressed them:-" Look here, my children, stand on this baker's peel for an instant." The boys replied, "No, no, old lady, you get upon it first, and one can then easily learn how it is to be done." The old witch, believing them to be innocent and artless, stood upon the peel! "Saint Peter, come to our help!" cried out the brothers, the moment they saw her upon the peel. Saint Peter came, pushed the old hag into the oven, stirred the fire, and shut the oven door. After this the boys continued to partake of the remaining cakes very comfortably.
Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk Lore Society Publications, Vol. 9. Miss Henrietta Monteiro, translator. New York: Folk Lore Society Publications, 1882.
[Reprinted: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969.] Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.