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The Partnership Of The Thief And The Liar

from The Grey Fairy Book





There was once upon a time a thief, who, being out of a job, was
wandering by himself up and down the seashore. As he walked he
passed a man who was standing still, looking at the waves.

‘I wonder,' said the thief, addressing the stranger, ‘if you have
ever seen a stone swimming?'

‘Most certainly I have,' replied the other man, ‘and, what is
more, I saw the same stone jump out of the water and fly through
the air.'

‘This is capital,' replied the thief. ‘You and I must go into
partnership. We shall certainly make our fortunes. Let us start
together for the palace of the king of the neighbouring country.
When we get there, I will go into his presence alone, and will
tell him the most startling thing I can invent. Then you must
follow and back up my lie.'

Having agreed to do this, they set out on their travels. After
several days' journeying, they reached the town where the king's
palace was, and here they parted for a few hours, while the thief
sought an interview with the king, and begged his majesty to give
him a glass of beer.

‘That is impossible,' said the king, ‘as this year there has been
a failure of all the crops, and of the hops and the vines; so we
have neither wine nor beer in the whole kingdom.'

‘How extraordinary!' answered the thief. ‘I have just come from a
country where the crops were so fine that I saw twelve barrels of
beer made out of one branch of hops.'

‘I bet you three hundred florins that is not true,' answered the
king.

‘And I bet you three hundred florins it is true,' replied the
thief.

Then each staked his three hundred florins, and the king said he
would decide the question by sending a servant into that country
to see if it was true.

So the servant set out on horseback, and on the way he met a man,
and he asked him whence he came. And the man told him that he
came from the self-same country to which the servant was at that
moment bound.

‘If that is the case,' said the servant, ‘you can tell me how
high the hops grow in your country, and how many barrels of beer
can be brewed from one branch?'

‘I can't tell you that,' answered the man, ‘but I happened to be
present when the hops were being gathered in, and I saw that it
took three men with axes three days to cut down one branch.'

Then the servant thought that he might save himself a long
journey; so he gave the man ten florins, and told him he must
repeat to the king what he had just told him. And when they got
back to the palace, they came together into the king's presence.

And the king asked him: ‘Well, is it true about the hops?'

‘Yes, sire, it is,' answered the servant; ‘and here is a man I
have brought with me from the country to confirm the tale.'

So the king paid the thief the three hundred florins; and the
partners once more set out together in search of adventures. As
they journeyed, the thief said to his comrade: ‘I will now go to
another king, and will tell him something still more startling;
and you must follow and back up my lie, and we shall get some
money out of him; just see if we don't.'

When they reached the next kingdom, the thief presented himself
to the king, and requested him to give him a cauliflower. And the
king answered: ‘Owing to a blight among the vegetables we have no
cauliflower.'

‘That is strange,' answered the thief. ‘I have just come from a
country where it grows so well that one head of cauliflower
filled twelve water-tubs.'

‘I don't believe it,' answered the king.

‘I bet you six hundred florins it is true,' replied the thief.

‘And I bet you six hundred florins it is not true,' answered the
king. And he sent for a servant, and ordered him to start at once
for the country whence the thief had come, to find out if his
story of the cauliflower was true. On his journey the servant met
with a man. Stopping his horse he asked him where he came from,
and the man replied that he came from the country to which the
other was travelling.

‘If that is the case,' said the servant, ‘you can tell me to what
size cauliflower grows in your country? Is it so large that one
head fills twelve water-tubs?'

‘I have not seen that,' answered the man. ‘But I saw twelve
waggons, drawn by twelve horses, carrying one head of cauliflower
to the market.'

And the servant answered: ‘Here are ten florins for you, my man,
for you have saved me a long journey. Come with me now, and tell
the king what you have just told me.'

‘All right,' said the man, and they went together to the palace;
and when the king asked the servant if he had found out the truth
about the cauliflower, the servant replied: ‘Sire, all that you
heard was perfectly true; here is a man from the country who will
tell you so.'

So the king had to pay the thief the six hundred florins. And the
two partners set out once more on their travels, with their nine
hundred florins. When they reached the country of the
neighbouring king, the thief entered the royal presence, and
began conversation by asking if his majesty knew that in an
adjacent kingdom there was a town with a church steeple on which
a bird had alighted, and that the steeple was so high, and the
bird's beak so long, that it had pecked the stars till some of
them fell out of the sky.

‘I don't believe it,' said the king.

‘Nevertheless I am prepared to bet twelve hundred florins that it
is true,' answered the thief.

‘And I bet twelve hundred florins that it is a lie,' replied the
king. And he straightway sent a servant into the neighbouring
country to find out the truth.

As he rode, the servant met a man coming in the opposite
direction. So he hailed him and asked him where he came from. And
the man replied that he came out of the very town to which the
man was bound. Then the servant asked him if the story they had
heard about the bird with the long beak was true.

‘I don't know about that,' answered the man, ‘as I have never
seen the bird; but I once saw twelve men shoving all their might
and main with brooms to push a monster egg into a cellar.'

‘That is capital,' answered the servant, presenting the man with
ten florins. ‘Come and tell your tale to the king, and you will
save me a long journey.'

So, when the story was repeated to the king, there was nothing
for him to do but to pay the thief the twelve hundred florins.

Then the two partners set out again with their ill- gotten gains,
which they proceeded to divide into two equal shares; but the
thief kept back three of the florins that belonged to the liar's
half of the booty. Shortly afterwards they each married, and
settled down in homes of their own with their wives. One day the
liar discovered that he had been done out of three florins by his
partner, so he went to his house and demanded them from him.

‘Come next Saturday, and I will give them to you,' answered the
thief. But as he had no intention of giving the liar the money,
when Saturday morning came he stretched himself out stiff and
stark upon the bed, and told his wife she was to say he was dead.
So the wife rubbed her eyes with an onion, and when the liar
appeared at the door, she met him in tears, and told him that as
her husband was dead he could not be paid the three florins.

But the liar, who knew his partner's tricks, instantly suspected
the truth, and said: ‘As he has not paid me, I will pay him out
with three good lashes of my riding whip.'

At these words the thief sprang to his feet, and, appearing at
the door, promised his partner that if he would return the
following Saturday he would pay him. So the liar went away
satisfied with this promise.

But when Saturday morning came the thief got up early and hid
himself under a truss of hay in the hay- loft.

When the liar appeared to demand his three florins, the wife met
him with tears in her eyes, and told him that her husband was
dead.

‘Where have you buried him?' asked the liar.

‘In the hay-loft,' answered the wife.

‘Then I will go there, and take away some hay in payment of his
debt,' said the liar. And proceeding to the hay-loft, he began to
toss about the hay with a pitchfork, prodding it into the trusses
of hay, till, in terror of his life, the thief crept out and
promised his partner to pay him the three florins on the
following Saturday.

When the day came he got up at sunrise, and going down into the
crypt of a neighbouring chapel, stretched himself out quite still
and stiff in an old stone coffin. But the liar, who was quite as
clever as his partner, very soon bethought him of the crypt, and
set out for the chapel, confident that he would shortly discover
the hiding-place of his friend. He had just entered the crypt,
and his eyes were not yet accustomed to the darkness, when he
heard the sound of whispering at the grated windows. Listening
intently, he overheard the plotting of a band of robbers, who had
brought their treasure to the crypt, meaning to hide it there,
while they set out on fresh adventures. All the time they were
speaking they were removing the bars from the window, and in
another minute they would all have entered the crypt, and
discovered the liar. Quick as thought he wound his mantle round
him and placed himself, standing stiff and erect, in a niche in
the wall, so that in the dim light he looked just like an old
stone statue. As soon as the robbers entered the crypt, they set
about the work of dividing their treasure. Now, there were twelve
robbers, but by mistake the chief of the band divided the gold
into thirteen heaps. When he saw his mistake he said they had not
time to count it all over again, but that the thirteenth heap
should belong to whoever among them could strike off the head of
the old stone statue in the niche with one stroke. With these
words he took up an axe, and approached the niche where the liar
was standing. But, just as he had waved the axe over his head
ready to strike, a voice was heard from the stone coffin saying,
in sepulchral tones: ‘Clear out of this, or the dead will arise
from their coffins, and the statues will descend from the walls,
and you will be driven out more dead than alive.' And with a
bound the thief jumped out of his coffin and the liar from his
niche, and the robbers were so terrified that they ran
helter-skelter out of the crypt, leaving all their gold behind
them, and vowing that they would never put foot inside the
haunted place again. So the partners divided the gold between
them, and carried it to their homes; and history tells us no more
about them.





Next: Fortunatus And His Purse

Previous: Janni And The Draken



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