The Master Thief





There was once a farmer who had a son named Will, and he sent him out

in the world to learn a trade and seek his fortune. Now he hadn't gone

far when he was stopped by a band of robbers who called out to him:



"Your purse or your life!"



And he gave them his purse and said: "That is an easy way of getting

money, I'd like to be a robber myself."



So they agreed to take him into their band if he could show he was

able to do a robber's work. And the first person who went through the

wood again they sent Will to see if he could rob him. So he went up to

the man and said to him:



"Your purse or your life!"



The man gave him his purse, whereupon Will took all the money out of

it and gave it back to the man and took the purse back to the robbers,

who said:



"Well, what luck?"



"Oh, I got his purse from him quite easily; here it is."



"Well, what about the money?" said they.



"Well, that I gave back to him. You only asked me to say, 'Your purse

or your life.'"



At that the robbers roared with laughter and said: "You'll never be a

thief."



Will was quite ashamed of making such a fool of himself and determined

he would do better next time.



So one day he saw two farmers driving a herd of cattle to market, and

told the robbers that he knew a way to take the cattle from them

without fighting for them.



"If you do that," said they, "you will be a Master Thief."



Then Will went a little way ahead of the robbers with a stout cord,

which he tied under his armpits and then fixed himself upon a branch

of a tree over the road so that it looked as if he had been hanged.



When the farmers came with their cattle they said: "There's one of the

robbers hung up for an example," and drove their cattle on farther.



Then Will got down, and running across a bypath got again in front of

the farmers and hung himself up as before on a tree by the side of the

road.



When the farmers came up to him one of them said: "Goodness gracious

me, why there's the same robber hanged up here again."



"Oh, that's not the same robber," said the other.



"Yes, it is," said the first, "for I noticed he had a white horn

button on his coat, and see, there it is. It must be the same man."



"How could that be?" said the other. "We left that one hanging up dead

half a mile back."



"I am sure it is."



"I am certain it isn't."



"Well, give a good look at him, and we'll go back and see if it isn't

the same."



So the farmers went back to look, and Will took their cattle and drove

them back to the robbers, who agreed that he was a Master Thief.



He stopped with them for several years and made much money, and then

drove back in a carriage and pair to his father's farm.



When he came there his father came to the carriage and bowed to him

and asked him, "What is your pleasure, sir?"



"Oh, I want to make some inquiries about a young fellow named William

who used to be on this farm. What has become of him?"



"Oh, I don't know; he was my son and I have not heard from him for

many years; I am afraid he has come to no good."



"Look at me closely and see if you see any resemblance to him."



Then the farmer recognized Will and took him into the farmhouse and

called Will's mother to come and welcome him back.



"So, Will, you've come back in a carriage and pair," said she. "How

have you earnt so much money?"



So Will told his mother that he had become a Master Thief but begged

her not to mention it to any one, but to tell them that he had been an

explorer and had found gold.



Well, the very next day a neighbouring gossip called in upon Will's

mother and asked her to tell her the news about Will and what he had

been doing.



So she said: "Oh, Will has been an exploiter, I mean explorer, but he

really was a Master Thief. But you mustn't tell anybody; you'll

promise, won't you?"



So the gossip promised, but of course the moment she got home she told

all about Will being a Master Thief.



Now the lord of the village soon heard of this, and he called Will up

to him and said: "I hear you are a Master Thief. You know that you

deserve death for that. But if you can prove that you are really a

master in your thievery I will let you go free. First let us see

whether you can steal my horse out of my stable to-night."



To prevent his horse being stolen, the lord ordered it to be saddled

and put a stable boy on it, telling him to stop there all night.



Will took two flasks of brandy into one of which he had poured a drug,

and dressing himself as an old woman he went to the lord's stable late

at night and asked to rest there as it was so cold and she was so

tired.



The stable boy pointed to some straw in the corner and told the woman

she might rest there for a time.



When she sat down she took one of the brandy flasks out of her pocket

and drank it off, saying, "Ah, that warms one! Would you like to have

a drink?"



And when the stable boy said "Yes," Will gave him the other flask, and

as soon as he had drunk it he fell dead asleep.



So Will lifted him off of the horse and put him on the cross-bar of

the stable as if he were riding, and then he got on the horse and rode

away.



In the morning the lord went down to the stable and there he saw the

stable boy riding the cross-bar and his horse gone.



Then Will rode up to the stable on the lord's horse and said: "Am I

not a Master Thief?"



"Oh, stealing my horse was not so hard. Let us see if you can steal

the sheet from off my bed to-night. But, look out, if you come near my

bedroom I shall shoot you."



That night Will took a dummy man and propped it up on a ladder, which

he put up to the lord's bedroom.



And when the lord saw the dummy coming in at the window he shot his

pistol at it and it fell down. He rushed downstairs and out into the

open air looking to see if he had shot Will.



Meanwhile Will went up to the lord's bedroom and, speaking in the

lord's voice, said to his wife: "Give me the sheet, my dear, to wrap

the body of that poor Master Thief in."



So she gave him the sheet and he went away.



Next morning Will brought up the sheet to the lord, who said: "That

was a good trick, I must confess. But if you want really to prove that

you are a Master Thief bring to me the priest in a bag, and then I

will own your mastery."



So that night Will took a number of crabs and tied candle ends upon

them, and taking them to the cemetery lit the candle ends and let them

loose.



When the priest of the village saw these lights moving over the

cemetery he came to the door and watched them and called out:



"What is that?"



Now Will had dressed himself up like an angel.



"It is the last day of judgment, and I have come for thee, Father

Lawrence, to carry thee to heaven. Come within this bag, and in a

short time thou wilt be in thine appointed place."



So Father Lawrence crept within the bag, and Will dragged him along,

and when he bumped against the ground Father Lawrence said:



"Oh, we must be going through purgatory."



And then Will took him to the hen-coops and threw him in among the

chickens and ducks and geese, and Father Lawrence said:



"We must be getting near the angels for I hear the rustling of their

wings."



So Will went up to the lord's house and made him come down to the

hen-coops and there showed him the priest in the bag, and the lord

said:



"I do not know how you do these things. I cannot tell if you are

really a Master Thief unless you take my horse from under me. If you

can do that I will call you the Master of all Master Thieves."



Well, next day, Will dressed himself up as an old woman, and taking a

cart with an old horse put in it a cask of beer, and then went driving

along with his thumb in the bunghole.



Soon after he met the lord on horseback who asked him if he had seen a

man like Will lurking about there in the forest.



"I think I have," said Will, "and could bring him to you if you

wanted. But I can't leave this cask before the taps come out; I have

to keep my thumb in the bunghole."



"Oh, I will do that," said the lord, "if you will only go and get that

man. Take my horse and run him down."



So Will got on the lord's horse and rode off, leaving the nobleman

with his thumb in the bunghole. He waited and he waited and he waited

till at last he drove in the cart back to his house, and there he saw

no less a person than Will himself riding his horse.



Then the noble said unto Will: "You are indeed a Master Thief. Go your

way in peace."





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