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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm

Clever Grethel

From “Popular Tales”

THERE was once a cook named Grethel, who had shoes with red heels, and when she wore them out-of-doors she would draw herself up, and walk proudly, and say to herself, “I really am a handsome girl!” At home she would sometimes, in a frolic, drink a glass of wine, or, if she took it into her head, she would eat up all the best things in the house till she was satisfied, and say to herself, “The cook ought to know the taste of everything.”

One day her master said to her, “Grethel, I have invited some friends to dinner to-day; cook me some of your best chickens.”

“That I will, master,” she replied.

So she went out, and killed two of the best fowls and prepared them for roasting.

In the afternoon she placed them on the spit before the fire, and they were all ready, and beautifully hot and brown by the proper time, but the visitors had not arrived. So she went to her master, and said, “The fowls will be quite spoiled if I keep them at the fire any longer. It will be a pity and a shame if they are not eaten soon!”

Then said her master, “I will go and fetch the visitors myself,” and away he went.

As soon as his back was turned Grethel put the spit with the birds on one side, and thought, “I have been standing by the fire so long that it has made me quite thirsty. Who knows when they will come? While I am waiting I may as well run into the cellar and have a little drop.” So she seized a jug, and said, “All right, Grethel, you shall have a good draft. Wine is so tempting!” she continued, “and it does not do to spoil your draft.” And she drank without stopping till the jug was empty.

After this she went into the kitchen, and placed the fowls again before the fire, basted them with butter, and rattled the spit round so furiously that they browned and frizzled with the heat. “They would never miss a little piece if they searched for it ever so carefully,” she said to herself. Then she dipped her finger in the dripping-pan to taste, and cried, “Oh, how nice these fowls are! It is a sin and a shame that there is no one here to eat them!”

She ran to the window to see if her master and the guests were coming; but she could see no one. So she went and stood again by the fowls, and thought, “The wing of that fowl is a little burned. I had better eat it out of the way.” She cut it off as she thought this, and ate it up, and it tasted so nice that when she had finished it she thought, “I must have the other. Master will never notice that anything is missing.”

After the two wings were eaten, Grethel again went to look for her master, but there were no signs of his appearance.

“Who knows?” she said to herself; “perhaps the visitors are not coming at all, and they have kept my master to dinner, so he won’t be back. Hi, Grethel! there are lots of good things left for you; and that piece of fowl has made me thirsty. I must have another drink before I come back and eat up all these good things.”

So she went into the cellar, took a large draft of wine, and returning to the kitchen, sat down and ate the remainder of the fowl with great relish.

There was now only one fowl left, and as her master did not return, Grethel began to look at the other with longing eyes. At last she said, “Where one is, there the other must be; for the fowls belong to each other, and what is right for one is also fair and right for the other. I believe, too, I want some more to drink. It won’t hurt me.”

The last draft gave her courage. She came back to the kitchen and let the second fowl go after the first.

As she was enjoying the last morsel, home came her master.

“Make haste, Grethel!” he cried. “The guests will be here in a few minutes.”

“Yes, master,” she replied. “It will soon be all ready.”

Meanwhile the master saw that the cloth was laid and everything in order. So he took up the carving-knife with which he intended to carve the fowl, and went out to sharpen it on the stones in the passage.

While he was doing so, the guests arrived and knocked gently and courteously at the house door. Grethel ran out to see who it was, and when she caught sight of the visitors she placed her finger on her lips, and whispered, “Hush! Hush! Go back again as quickly as you came! If my master should catch you it would be unfortunate. He did invite you to dinner this evening, but with no other intention than to cut off both the ears of each of you. Listen; you can hear him sharpening his knife.”

The guests heard the sound, and hastened as fast as they could down the steps, and were soon out of sight.

Grethel was not idle. She ran screaming to her master, and cried, “You have invited fine visitors, certainly!”

“Hi! Why, Grethel, what do you mean?”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “they came here just now, and have taken my two beautiful fowls from the dish that I was going to bring up for dinner, and have run away with them.”

“What strange conduct!” said her master, who was so sorry to lose his nice dinner that he rushed out to follow the thieves. “If they had only left me one, or at least enough for my own dinner!” he cried, running after them. But the more he cried to them to stop the faster they ran; and when they saw him with the knife in his hand, and heard him say, “Only one! only one!”—he meant, if they had left him “only one fowl,” but they thought he spoke of “only one ear,” which he intended to cut off—they ran as if fire were burning around them, and were not satisfied till they found themselves safe at home with both ears untouched.