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Story No. 66

The Two Thieves

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania

There was a time when there was. There were two thieves. One was a country thief, and one a town thief. So the time came that the two met, and they asked one another whence they are and what they are.

Then the country thief said to the town one, 'Well, if you're such a clever thief as to be able to steal the eggs from under a crow, then I shall know that you are a thief.'

He said, 'See me, how I'll steal them.'

And he climbed lightly up the tree, and put his hand under the crow, and stole the eggs from her, and the crow never felt it. Whilst he is stealing the crow's eggs, the country thief stole his breeches, and the town thief never felt him. And when he came down and saw that he was naked, he said, 'Brother, I never felt you stealing my breeches; let's become brothers.'

So they became brothers.

Then what are they to do? They went into the city, and took one wife between them. And the town thief said, 'Brother, it is a sin for two brothers to have one wife. It were better for her to be yours.'

He said, 'Mine be she.'

'But, come now, where I shall take you, that we may get money.'

'Come on, brother, since you know.'

So they took and departed. Then they came to the king's, and considered how to get into his palace. And what did they devise?

Said the town thief, 'Come, brother, and let us break into the palace, and let ourselves down one after the other.' 'Come on.'

So they got on the palace, and broke through the roof; and the country thief lowered himself, and took two hundred purses of money, and came out. And they went home.

Then the king arose in the morning, and looked at his money, and saw that two hundred purses of money were missing. Straightway he arose and went to the prison, where was an old thief. And when he came to him, he asked him, 'Old thief, I know not who has come into my palace, and stolen from me two hundred purses of money. And I know not where they went out by, for there is no hole anywhere in the palace.'

The old thief said, 'There must be one, O king, only you don't see it. But go and make a fire in the palace, and come out and watch the palace; and where you see smoke issuing, that was where the thieves entered. And do you put a cask of molasses just there at that hole, for the thief will come again who stole the money.'

Then the king went and made a fire, and saw the hole where the smoke issues in the roof of the palace. And he went and got a cask of molasses, and put it there at the hole. Then the thieves came again there at night to that hole. And the thief from the country let himself down again; and as he did so he fell into the cask of molasses. And he said to his brother, 'Brother, it is all over with me. But, not to do the king's pleasure, come and cut off my head, for I am as good as dead.'

So his comrade lowered himself down, and cut off his head, and went and buried it in a wood.

So, when the king arose, he arose early, and went there, where the thief had fallen, and sees the thief there in the cask of molasses, and with no head. Then what is he to do? He took and went to the old thief, and told him, 'Look you, old thief, I caught the thief, and he has no head.'

Then the old thief said, 'There! O king, this is a cunning thief. But what are you to do? Why, take the corpse, and hang it up outside at the city gate. And he who stole his head will come to steal him too. And do you set soldiers to watch him.'

So the king went and took the corpse, and hung it up, and set soldiers to watch it.

Then the thief took and bought a white mare and a cart, and took a jar of twenty measures of wine. And he put it in the cart, and drove straight to the place where his comrade was hanging. He made himself very old, and pretended the cart had broken down, and the jar had fallen out. And he began to weep and tear his hair, and he made himself to cry aloud, that he was a poor man, and his master would kill him. The soldiers guarding the corpse said one to another, 'Let's help to put this old fellow's jar in the cart, mates, for it's a pity to hear him.'

So they went to help him, and said to him, 'Hullo! old chap, we'll put your jar in the cart; will you give us a, drop to drink?'

'That I will, deary.'

So they went and put the jar in the cart. And the old fellow took and said to them, 'Take a pull, deary, for I have nothing to give it you in.'

So the soldiers took and drank till they could drink no more. And the old fellow made himself to ask, 'And who is this?'

The soldiers said, 'That is a thief.'

Then the old man said, 'Hullo! deary, I shan't spend the night here, else that thief will steal my mare.'

Then the soldiers said, 'What a silly you are, old fellow! How will he come and steal your mare?'

'He will, though, deary. Isn't he a thief?'

'Shut up, old fellow. He won't steal your mare; and if he does, we'll pay you for her.'

'He will steal her, deary; he's a thief.'

'Why, old boy, he's dead. We'll give you our written word that if he steals your mare we will pay you three hundred groats for her.'

Then the old man said, 'All right, deary, if that's the case.'

So he stayed there. He placed himself near the fire, and a drowsy fit took him, and he pretended to sleep. The soldiers kept going to the jar of wine, and drank every drop of the wine, and got drunk. And where they fell there they slept, and took no thought. The old chap, the thief, who pretended to sleep, arose and stole the corpse from the gallows, and put it on his mare, and carried it into the forest and buried it. And he left his mare there and went back to the fire, and pretended to sleep.

And when the soldiers arose, and saw that neither the corpse was there nor the old man's mare, they marvelled, and said, 'There! my comrades, the old man said rightly the thief would steal his mare. Let's make it up to him.'

So by the time the old man arose they gave him four hundred groats, and begged him to say no more about it.

Then when the king arose, and saw there was no thief on the gallows, he went to the old thief in the prison, and said to him, 'There! they have stolen the thief from the gallows, old thief. What am I to do?'

'Did not I tell you, O king, that this is a cunning thief? But do you go and buy up all the joints of meat in the city. And charge a ducat the two pounds, so that no one will care to buy any, unless he has come into a lot of money. But that thief won't be able to hold out three days.'

Then the king went and bought up all the joints, and left one joint and that one he priced at a ducat the pound. So nobody came to buy that day. Next day the thief would stay no longer. He took a cart and put a horse in it, and drove to the meat-market. And he pretended he had damaged his cart, and lamented he had not an axe to repair it with. Then a butcher said to him, 'Here, take my axe, and mend your cart.' The axe was close to the meat. As he passed to take the axe, he picked up a big piece of meat, and stuck it under his coat. And he handed the axe back to the butcher, and departed home.

The same day comes the king, and asks the butchers, 'Have you sold any meat to any one?' They said, 'We have not sold to any one.'

So the king weighed the meat, and found it twenty pounds short. And he went to the old thief in prison, and said to him, 'He has stolen twenty pounds of meat, and no one saw him.'

'Didn't I tell you, O king, that this is a cunning thief?'

'Well, what am I to do, old thief?'

'What are you to do? Whys make a proclamation, and offer in it all the money you possess, and say he shall become king in your stead, merely to tell who he is.'

Then the king went and wrote the proclamation, just as the old thief had told him. And he posted it outside by the gate. And the thief comes and reads it, and thought how he should act. And he took his heart in his teeth and went to the king, and said, 'O king, I am the thief.'

'You are?'

'I am.'

Then the king said, 'If you it be, that I may believe you are really the man, do you see this peasant coming? Well, you must steal the ox from under the yoke without his seeing you.'

Then the thief said, 'I'll steal it, O king; watch me.' And he went before the peasant, and began to cry aloud, 'Comedy of Comedies!'

Then the peasant said, 'See there, God! Many a time have I been in the city, and have often heard "Comedy of Comedies," and have never gone to see what it is like.'

And he left his cart, and went off to the other end of the city; and the thief kept crying out till he had got the peasant some distance from the oxen. Then the thief returns, and takes the ox, and cuts off its tail, and sticks it in the mouth of the other ox, and came away with the first ox to the king. Then the king laughed fit to kill himself. The peasant, when he came back, began to weep; and the king called him and asked, 'What are you weeping for, my man?'

'Why, O king, whilst I was away to see the play, one of the oxen has gone and eaten up the other.'

When the king heard that, he laughed fit to kill himself, and he told his servant to give him two good oxen. And he gave him also his own ox, and asked him, 'Do you recognise your ox, my man?'

'I do, O king.'

'Well, away you go home.'

And he went to the thief. 'Well, my fine fellow, I will give you my daughter, and you shall become king in my stead, if you will steal the priest for me out of the church.'

Then the thief went into the town, and got three hundred crabs and three hundred candles, and went to the church, and stood up on the pavement. And as the priest chanted, the thief let out the crabs one by one, each with a candle fastened to its claw; he let it out.

And the priest said, 'So righteous am I in the sight of God that He sends His saints for me.'

The thief let out all the crabs, each with a candle fastened to its claw, and he said, 'Come, O priest, for God calls thee by His messengers to Himself, for thou art righteous.'

The priest said, 'And how am I to go?'

'Get into this sack.'

And he let down the sack; and the priest got in; and he lifted him up, and dragged him down the steps. And the priest's head went tronk, tronk. And he took him on his back, and carried him to the king, and tumbled him down. And the king burst out laughing. And straightway he gave his daughter to the thief, and made him king in his stead.


Good as this version is, the last episode is much better ['The Gypsy and the Priest'] told in the Slovak-Gypsy variant from Dr. Rudolf von Sowa's Mundart der Slovakischen Zigeuner (Gött. 1887), No. 8, p. 174: –


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