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The Theif and his Master
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
Hans wished to put his son to learn a trade, so he went into the
church and prayed to our Lord God to know which would be the most
suitable for him. Then the clerk got behind the altar, and said,
thieving, thieving. On this Hans goes back to his son, and tells him
he is to learn thieving, and that the Lord God had said so. So he
goes with his son to seek a man who is acquainted with thieving.
They walk a long time and come into a great forest, where stands a
little house with an old woman in it. Hans says, do you know of a
man who is acquainted with thieving. You can learn that here quite
well, says the woman, my son is a master of it. So he speaks with
the son, and asks if he knows thieving really well. The master-thief
says, I will teach him well. Come back when a year is over, and then
if you recognize your son, I will take no payment at all for teaching
him, but if you don't know him, you must give me two hundred talers.
The father goes home again, and the son learns witchcraft and
thieving, thoroughly. When the year is out, the father is full of
anxiety to know how he shall recognize his son. As he is thus going
about in his trouble, he meets a little dwarf, who says, man, what
ails you, that you are always in such trouble.
Oh, says Hans, a year ago I placed my son with a master-thief who
told me I was to come back when the year was out, and that if I then
did not know my son when I saw him, I was to pay two hundred talers,
but if I did know him I was to pay nothing, and now I am afraid of
not knowing him and can't tell where I am to get the money. Then the
dwarf tells him to take a crust of bread with him, and to stand
beneath the chimney. There on the cross-beam is a basket, out of
which a little bird is peeping, and that is your son.
Hans goes thither, and throws a crust of black bread in front of the
basket with the bird in it, and the little bird comes out, and looks
up. Hello, my son, are you here, says the father, and the son is
delighted to see his father, but the master-thief says, the devil
must have prompted you, or how could you have known your son.
Father, let us go, said the youth.
Then the father and son set out homeward. On the way a carriage
comes driving by. Hereupon the son says to his father, I will change
myself into a large greyhound, and then you can earn a great deal of
money by me. Then the gentleman calls from the carriage, my man,
will you sell your dog. Yes, says the father. How much do you want
for it. Thirty talers. Well, man, that is a great deal, but as it
is such a very fine dog I will have it. The gentleman takes it into
his carriage, but when they have driven a little farther the dog
springs out of the carriage through the window, and goes back to his
father, and is no longer a greyhound.
They go home together. Next day there is a fair in the neighboring
town, so the youth says to his father, I will now change myself into
a beautiful horse, and you can sell me, but when you have sold me,
you must take off my bridle, or I cannot become a man again. Then
the father goes with the horse to the fair, and the master-thief
comes and buys the horse for a hundred talers, but the father
forgets, and does not take off the bridle. So the man goes home with
the horse, and puts it in the stable.
When the maid crosses the threshold, the horse says, take off my
bridle, take off my bridle. Then the maid stands still, and says,
what, can you speak. So she goes and takes the bridle off, and the
horse becomes a sparrow, and flies out at the door, and the
master-thief becomes a sparrow also, and flies after him.
Then they come together and cast lots again, and the master loses.
So the master changes himself into a cock, and the youth becomes a
fox, and bites the master's head off, and he died and has remained
dead to this day.