"Aye, indeed," she answered, eagerly reaching forth her hand. Then, lowering her voice, added, "We SHOULD be rich but for that Jan Kamphuisen. He was at the willow tree years ago, Hans. Depend upon it!"
"Indeed, it seems likely," sighed Hans. "Well, Mother, we must give up the money bravely. It is certainly gone. The father has told us all he knows. Let us think no more about it."
"That's easy saying, Hans. I shall try, but it's hard and my poor man wanting so many comforts. Bless me! How girls fly about! They were here but this instant. Where did they run to?"
"They slipped behind the cottage," said Hans, "like enough to hide from us. Hist! I'll catch them for you! They both can move quicker and softer than yonder rabbit, but I'll give them a good start first."
"Why, there IS a rabbit, sure enough. Hold, Hans, the poor thing must have been in sore need to venture from its burrow in this bitter weather. I'll get a few crumbs for it within."
So saying, the good woman bustled into the cottage. She soon came out again, but Hans had forgotten to wait, and the rabbit, after taking a cool survey of the premises, had scampered off to unknown quarters. Turning the corner of the cottage, Dame Brinker came upon the children. Hans and Gretel were standing before Annie, who was seated carelessly upon a stump.
"That is as good as a picture!" cried Dame Brinker, halting in admiration of the group. "Many a painting have I seen at the grand house at Heidelberg not a whit prettier. My two are rough chubs, Annie, but YOU look like a fairy."
"Do I?" laughed Annie, sparkling with animation. "Well, then, Gretel and Hans, imagine I'm your godmother just paying you a visit. Now I'll grant you each a wish. What will you have, Master Hans?"