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The Artful Thief

About Kathakali Mukherjee

Kathakali Mukherjee, born 1971, was a student of Sanskrit – Epigraphy and ancient Indian history. But her interest in language and literary studies led her learning another couple of European languages as well.
She worked for media libraries in Kolkata; also spent several years as technical translator, process and team manager with German and Indian software companies in Bangalore. Currently staying in Gurugram or Kolkata, she is engaged with reading and writing.
Apart from experimenting with short stories, she works on literary translation of fable and fairy tales as well as historical fictions. She is exploring the treasure trove left by esteemed Bengali and German authors between 18th-19th centuries these days.
She writes poems during her busy days when time does not permit her to sit at the writing desk.
Her blog: https://medium.com/@KathakaliM and https://www.indiblogger.in/kathakalim
Her self-published works:
"You and me" is a collection of poems https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01NCSMHK9/
And her effort of translating a selection of articles from Lokrahasya “Secrets of the Humankind – Satiric Articles by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay,”: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-kathakali-mukherjee-secrets-humankind

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Synopsis

It was a small village. In the farthest corner of the village, a very poor old couple lived all alone in a modest cottage. Their cottage stood at the end of the village indeed. The couple was honest and hardworking; but they did not have children to look after them. As a matter of fact, they had one son. But he had been an undutiful boy. He had sneaked away from the land leaving his parents alone. None had ever heard of him since then. The old man and his wife believed that their only son was dead – must be in good hands with the God.

Part 1

One day during one of the holidays, both of them were sitting at their doorstep. A majestic carriage drove into the village. It was being pulled by six gallant steeds. On the carriage sat a single gentleman. Behind him stood a servant, whose hat and coat were studded with gold and silver. The carriage drove through the entire village. The simple peasants, who had just stepped out of the church, thought that the person must be a duke. Many were sure that a king was passing by, while even the nobleman, who lived in the old castle above the hill adjacent to the village, could not sport such splendour. Surprisingly, the carriage stopped in front of the last cottage of the village. An attendant jumped from the coach and opened the door for the master. A noble carriage-rider stepped down and walked straight towards the old couple.

Awestruck at the sight of a princely man before their home, both stood up from their bench in a hurry. The old man stretched out his hand for a warm handshake and told, “Would you like to have some potato dumpling with us? This ‘cap of South Thuringia’ is dish of this region.” The old lady was very much surprised by the old man’s showing such a friendly gesture to an unknown person, but the handsome young man in elegant attire took no time to accept his invitation. The old couple considered themselves fortunate as he told, “Great! No cook could ever please me with culinary skill since long. I would love to taste the food prepared by country people once now, like I did in my childhood.”

Even though they considered him a stranger, the old couple invited the young nobleman inside their cottage. He sent his carriage with coachman and servants to the tavern. The old lady hastily went to the kitchen, took out potatoes from the small cellar of their modest home, peeled, rubbed and mashed them. She boiled the water and let the dumplings get cooked in that; finally adding some lard, she consecrated the food with her devout chanting, “God bless the land!” *

While the wife kept herself busy in the kitchen, the old man took the stranger to the garden where he nurtured his freshly planted saplings. He had to check that the stilts to which he had tied the plants, stood strong on the ground and the young plants stood unhurt in strong wind. Wherever he found plants misplaced, he tied all those properly again.
The young stranger started asking questions, “Why did you tie this sapling thrice?”
“Well,” replied the old man, “It has three curves, so I straightened it tying on each of its curves. This will help it to grow properly.
“Perfect!” the stranger seemed curious, “But there you have an old twisted branch of the tree! Why didn’t you tie it to a pole to make it straight? “
“Hohoho!” laughed the old man loud, “Old trees, if twisted, cannot be set straight again. If you want those straight, you have to bring them up well when they are young.”
“Do you have children?” asked the stranger.
“Oh God! That’s painful story, My Lord,” replied the man, “I had a son; a terribly worthless one. He made a wild – you know – bad joke with me! He ran away and did not come back for the rest of his life. Who knows whether he was guided by God or Satan?”
“Why didn’t you raise your son straight when he was tender like these – your tiny saplings?” the stranger sounded sad. He continued as if he was accusing, “If he became an unruly twisted branch of the tree, it’s your fault. But if he comes to see you again, would you recognize him now? “
“I don’t really know, sir!” the poor farmer looked meek. “He is probably grown tall if he is still alive. I only remember he had a birthmark on the body. That will help me to recognise him. But I don’t think he will return home ever.”
The stranger took off his coat to show the old man a birthmark. The old man almost started dancing in cheer – clapping his hands over his head and shouting-out, “Lord Jesus! You are my son! But no, how come you are? You are so awfully rich! Did you become a count, or a duke?”
“Not that, father,” the son said in a faint voice, “But something different. I became a rogue as you didn’t raise me straight. Well, take it easy. I’ve learnt my art well. I’m not a lousy armature thief like many others.”

A wave of simultaneous terror and delight made the old man speechless. Without a single word, he grabbed his son’s hand, rushed inside home where his wife was preparing food. She had just finished arranging the cooked dumplings on a plate. Her man told her the entire story without taking a breath. The poor mother burst into tears. She embraced her son throwing her arms around his neck, kissed him again and again. “O my thief! Are you a thief! You are my son indeed. Who else I could carry in my heart since years? Now my heart leaps up seeing you again in this old age! Oh no! What will your godfather* say knowing your story, up in the castle?”

After some time, all three of them were trying to beat each other in eating dumplings. “True my son!” the father broke the silence, “Your godfather will not be very curious about your business now, I guess. But at the end, he will make you fidget towards the gallows.”
“Well, I want to meet my godfather right now!” the son called his carriage back; drove towards the castle on the top of the hill. They finished the dumplings in the meantime.

Seeing the poor child who was baptized under his witnesses once, returning as a handsome prince after so many years, obviously pleased the nobleman. He asked his godchild about his current status. But the honest answer from the impressive young man terrified him. Acquaintance with a skilled crook made him feel embarrassed. He started pondering, what could be the best way to get rid of such a dangerous person soon.
“Well,” said the nobleman to the young man, “Let us see whether you have properly learned your art, and became such a great thief that people can let you go honourably, or a petty thief who they will take to the gallows. I’ll have the second choice if you don’t pass three tasks I am going to give you!”
“Tell me, Godfather, I am not afraid of any kind of task.” – The Youngman declared boldly.
The nobleman thought for a little while, and then said, “Wait! I planned exactly three tests for you. Firstly, you have to steal my favourite horse from my stable. My stable is guarded by soldiers ready to slaughter everyone who dare invading it. Secondly, you have to steal the bed cloth from under my body, and the wedding ring from my wife’s finger when I am in bed with my wife. You should also know that I have pistols at hand all the time. For the third and last, you have to steal the pastor and the schoolmaster from the church. Then hang them both alive in a sack from my chimney. The gate and doors in the castle will be open for you.”

Before leaving, the master thief thanked his godfather for giving him such simple tasks.

Part 2

He went own way to take the first test next night. The nobleman made every effort to keep his favourite horse well-guarded. He ordered his best jockey to sit on it, another servant to take the bridle, a third to grab its tail. He ordered one soldier to guard the stable door. They kept vigil for hours. They felt frozen in unbearable cold of the night. Around midnight, all of them were thirsty. Suddenly they saw an old granny, coughing heavily, entering the courtyard. She was carrying a little barrel in a casket. The casket attracted the soldier. Why not? A barrel in the casket could contain some brandy which would be the best weapon to fight the cold of the foggy night. He called the old lady to sit beside the fire and asked her what was there inside the casket. He was right indeed! It was brandy, on the top of that it was refined, flavoured like double Seville orange, bitter Spanish or something like that.

The casket was neither empty nor covered. One whole roasted chicken was clearly visible inside. And the best thing was, the old granny was ready to sell the food and wine. The soldier went on purchasing one mug after another. Soon he got drunk; called the other keepers of the horse aloud, “Hey, wheat beer in flowing in the courtyard. Our granny brought pots full for us!”

The barrel emptied soon. The old granny was none other than the master-thief, who knew the art of disguising himself using different kinds of clothing. He mixed some sleeping powder with the drinks. Hence it did not take long before the soldier and others to fell asleep one after another. Within moments, the thief sneaked into the stable, sat on the horse and tried to lead it outside the stable. But no, the well-groomed horse was not ready to obey a thief’s order. The poor thief fell from the horse as he tried to ride. Then, he took a horse blanket, cut it into four pieces, and wrapped the pieces around the horse’s feet so that people can’t hear it galloping. Finally he took control of the steed and within moments – he crossed the castle gate!

As the sun came out bright next morning, the castle-owner looked out of the window to find a handsome rider galloping towards the courtyard. The horse was no less handsome and it seemed so familiar! The rider came closer and looked at the window,
“Good morning, Sir! Your steed is worth gold!” – shouted the young man.
“Go to hell!” screamed the nobleman, now able to see clearly that the horse was his pinto. “You are a bandit! Go ahead. Let your art exhibit!” The castle-owner grabbed the riding-whip in full rage and hopped towards the stable. But what he saw there made him laugh out loud – the guards were still sleeping dead-drunk, making a pile of men at one corner of the yard. At the same time, an eerie thought came to his mind. He knew that the thief would come to his room that night to steal the bed sheet and ring. He would have to shoot him immediately as he did not want to let such a dangerous criminal move around.

The night approached. The nobleman went to bed; his wife beside him. He kept a loaded pistol and various other weapons at hand. He did not fall asleep either, but stayed vigilant trying to listen whether anything was stirring in that cold deserted night.

All remained quiet for long. He was almost sure of the thief’s cowardice, who would not dare entering the castle fearing death. The castle-clock played midnight chime. Screech!! A sound came from below his window as if a long ladder was being dragged. Within moments the silhouette of a man showed up outside the window. It seemed he was to trying to get inside. “Don’t be scared, my lady!” – whispered the man in his wife’s ears, took the pistol, aimed at the robber and clank! – He shot the robber right in the middle of his head. The robber shook a little and, a thud sound was heard almost instantaneously. “He will not get up again, but I would like to avoid a hue and cry. I will to go down the ladder quickly, that no noise is created in the house, and remove the dead robber’s body before anyone comes to know.”

The man did exactly what his wife thought he would do. Soon after, he showed up again and told her in her ears, “He is dead, but I want to wrap the poor devil in a linen sheet before throwing him into the pit. And – since he has lost his life chasing your valuable ring, I want to bury him along with that ring! Give me the ring and the bed linen.” The lady did not mind giving him both, and he hurried down again.

By now, you know who the visitor was. To carry out this second assignment perfectly, the thief had cut a freshly hanged man* off from the row of best gallows, climbed the ladder loading him on own shoulders to mislead the nobleman and let the corpse tumble down as it was shot at. Then he hid himself in the dark alley till the castle-owner came downstairs and took the trouble of removing the supposed victim from his courtyard. This gave him ample time to swiftly slink into the master’s bedroom and collect the ring and bed linen from the mistress imitating his godfather’s voice.

Part 3

Next morning, the man of noble rank looked out of the window as usual. He saw a man coming uphill, as it seemed, to sell linen while he was carrying a bundle of linen folded on his shoulder. As the man came closer, he raised his hands to salute the owner of the castle, and a beautiful ring in his hand sparkled in the morning sun. “Good morning, Godfather! I wish you and Godmother had a good sleep!”

The nobleman was stunned seeing the fraud whom he had shot the previous night with his own hand and thrown into a pit on his own. Worried, he asked his wife about the ring and linen. “Well, you demanded it from me last night!” replied the lady.

“The Satan! Not me!” – He rushed out of the room screaming in rage. But soon he returned, considering that the daring thief might steal more once he is out. He shouted standing at window, “Arch-rogue! The third! The third will surely take you to the gallows!” – shaking his fist.

The next night, something strange happened in the graveyard. The schoolmaster who lived nearby saw it first. He reported it to the pastor. Above the tombs, some tiny burning lights were moving in wobbly motion. “Those are poor souls, schoolmaster!” – whispered the pastor, horrified. Suddenly a tall black figure appeared on the steps of the church, and started crying in a hollow tone :
“Come to me, all come to me running,
The judgement day for you is coming!
O children of men, it’s time to say your silent prayer
The dead roam collecting their bones in despair!
Who wants to go to heaven with me?
Hurry! Come, enter this sack for free!”

“Shall we?” The schoolmaster asked the pastor. His teeth were chattering in fear. The pastor looked calm and confident – “It’s time, before the heaven’s gate closes. The holy apostle Peter calls us. That is not the question. But how to arrange the trip money?”
“I have got only twenty crowns.” – whispered the schoolmaster.
“I’ve saved a hundred Laubtaler* for emergency.” – said the pastor. “Let’s take it with us,”
Both of them decided to go, and then, trembling with fear, they approached the black figure.

The clever thief planned it all very well. He had bought crabs from market and set burning wax candles on their backs so that they could turn into “poor souls” in the graveyard. Dressed in a monk’s beard and cowl, he brought a sack – those used to preserve hops. After taking the travel expense from the clergymen, he told them to step in the sacks. Tying up the sacks nicely, he dragged those through the village. As he came near a pond, he shouted, “Now it’s through the Red Sea!” then near the stream, “Now through the Kidron River!” The meadow where the castle was, the wind was cool, and so he shouted, “Now it goes through the Valley of Josaphat!”*

He was carrying them up by the stairs, screaming, “It reached the ladder to the heaven so soon!” He hanged the sacks on the chimney hook. Below in the kitchen, ham was being smoked. Hence good amount of smoke was coming out through the chimney, creating a hellish atmosphere there instead of resembling to a heavenly one. So he started shouting in a terrible voice, “Now it is purgatorial fire! This will take years for you!” The pastor and schoolmaster were almost choking – joined in a chorus with him. The terrible noise in the dark evening brought all members of the household there. Everybody was intensely curious.

The master-thief came down to the nobleman in courageous steps. “Sir, I passed third test too. Look at the chimney. The pastor and schoolmaster are hanging in the sack. You see them struggling inside and hear them screaming!”

“O you crooked devilish rogue! You satanic rascal – thief of all thieves!” – cried the nobleman before directing the servants to release the prisoners from the purgatory smoke. “You have secured victory over me. Get lost now! Here is a gold piece – your reward. Get away from me and never try to return. Go and hatch your gold, wherever you want!”
”Thank you for the best decision; you are my strict Godfather – I will do that!” – Replied the talented thief, “But don’t you want to redeem what I have honestly earned? Your favourite steed with two hundred crowns, your wife’s wedding ring and the bed-linen with a hundred crowns, the pastor’s and schoolmaster’s money with a hundred and twenty crowns! If not, then I’ll run away with all those.”
The nobleman almost flabbergasted, told, “Dear devil, it was all a joke, you are not going to keep those items with you; I’ll give you life.”
“Good, then I will depart, and bring you all those valuables!” The thief left and got the horses harnessed to his carriage, helped his old parents sit in it, sat on the nobleman’s steed, and set out while the brilliant ring continued shining on his finger. He sent only the bed-linen back to his Godfather along with a small letter: “Give the pastor and the schoolmaster their money; otherwise your wife will be stolen!”- The humble thief.

The damage left the nobleman terrified for life. He no longer wanted to know anything about his foster son. He didn’t have any chance to learn anything from him either, for the crafty thief had moved with his parents to a far-off country. He became an honest and respectable man there.

 

 

REFERENCE :

* This “cap of South Thuringia” signifies that the story was collected from that region
** Godfather- the custome of godparenting found in Catholic belief of Baptism. Widely practiced in feudal Europe, but was prohibited by Munich council in 813 AD.
*** Death by hanging in public was regular punishment for thieves in medieval Germany. Gallows with hanging bodies were frequently found on roadside.
**** Laubtaler – also called Lorbeertaler, German name for the Frech 6-Livre-which was also in use in Germanic speaking lands, especially in South Germany from 1726 till 1790.
***** Kidron River and Valley of Josaphat: mentions found in Hebrew bible as well as in Old Testament. In eastern side of Jerusalem, these are associated with biblical gods. The valley was later considered receptacle for all manner of impurities.

Photo credit – Wikimedia commons

It was a small village. In the farthest corner of the village, a very poor old couple lived all alone in a modest cottage. Their cottage stood at the end of the village indeed. The couple was honest and hardworking; but they did not have children to look after them. As a matter of fact, they had one son. But he had been an undutiful boy. He had sneaked away from the land leaving his parents alone. None had ever heard of him since then. The old man and his wife believed that their only son was dead – must be in good hands with the God.

One day during one of the holidays, both of them were sitting at their doorstep. A majestic carriage drove into the village. It was being pulled by six gallant steeds. On the carriage sat a single gentleman. Behind him stood a servant, whose hat and coat were studded with gold and silver. The carriage drove through the entire village. The simple peasants, who had just stepped out of the church, thought that the person must be a duke. Many were sure that a king was passing by, while even the nobleman, who lived in the old castle above the hill adjacent to the village, could not sport such splendour. Surprisingly, the carriage stopped in front of the last cottage of the village. An attendant jumped from the coach and opened the door for the master. A noble carriage-rider stepped down and walked straight towards the old couple.

Awestruck at the sight of a princely man before their home, both stood up from their bench in a hurry. The old man stretched out his hand for a warm handshake and told, “Would you like to have some potato dumpling with us? This ‘cap of South Thuringia’ is dish of this region.” The old lady was very much surprised by the old man’s showing such a friendly gesture to an unknown person, but the handsome young man in elegant attire took no time to accept his invitation. The old couple considered themselves fortunate as he told, “Great! No cook could ever please me with culinary skill since long. I would love to taste the food prepared by country people once now, like I did in my childhood.”

Even though they considered him a stranger, the old couple invited the young nobleman inside their cottage. He sent his carriage with coachman and servants to the tavern. The old lady hastily went to the kitchen, took out potatoes from the small cellar of their modest home, peeled, rubbed and mashed them. She boiled the water and let the dumplings get cooked in that; finally adding some lard, she consecrated the food with her devout chanting, “God bless the land!” *

While the wife kept herself busy in the kitchen, the old man took the stranger to the garden where he nurtured his freshly planted saplings. He had to check that the stilts to which he had tied the plants, stood strong on the ground and the young plants stood unhurt in strong wind. Wherever he found plants misplaced, he tied all those properly again.
The young stranger started asking questions, “Why did you tie this sapling thrice?”
“Well,” replied the old man, “It has three curves, so I straightened it tying on each of its curves. This will help it to grow properly.
“Perfect!” the stranger seemed curious, “But there you have an old twisted branch of the tree! Why didn’t you tie it to a pole to make it straight? “
“Hohoho!” laughed the old man loud, “Old trees, if twisted, cannot be set straight again. If you want those straight, you have to bring them up well when they are young.”
“Do you have children?” asked the stranger.
“Oh God! That’s painful story, My Lord,” replied the man, “I had a son; a terribly worthless one. He made a wild – you know – bad joke with me! He ran away and did not come back for the rest of his life. Who knows whether he was guided by God or Satan?”
“Why didn’t you raise your son straight when he was tender like these – your tiny saplings?” the stranger sounded sad. He continued as if he was accusing, “If he became an unruly twisted branch of the tree, it’s your fault. But if he comes to see you again, would you recognize him now? “
“I don’t really know, sir!” the poor farmer looked meek. “He is probably grown tall if he is still alive. I only remember he had a birthmark on the body. That will help me to recognize him. But I don’t think he will return home ever.”

The stranger took off his coat to show the old man a birthmark. The old man almost started dancing in cheer – clapping his hands over his head and shouting-out, “Lord Jesus! You are my son! But no, how come you are? You are so awfully rich! Did you become a count, or a duke?”
“Not that, father,” the son said in a faint voice, “But something different. I became a rogue as you didn’t raise me straight. Well, take it easy. I’ve learnt my art well. I’m not a lousy armature thief like many others.”

A wave of simultaneous terror and delight made the old man speechless. Without a single word, he grabbed his son’s hand, rushed inside home where his wife was preparing food. She had just finished arranging the cooked dumplings on a plate. Her man told her the entire story without taking a breath. The poor mother burst into tears. She embraced her son throwing her arms around his neck, kissed him again and again. “O my thief! Are you a thief! You are my son indeed. Who else I could carry in my heart since years? Now my heart leaps up seeing you again in this old age! Oh no! What will your godfather* say knowing your story, up in the castle?”

After some time, all three of them were trying to beat each other in eating dumplings. “True my son!” the father broke the silence, “Your godfather will not be very curious about your business now, I guess. But at the end, he will make you fidget towards the gallows.”
“Well, I want to meet my godfather right now!” the son called his carriage back; drove towards the castle on the top of the hill. They finished the dumplings in the meantime.

Seeing the poor child who was baptized under his witnesses once, returning as a handsome prince after so many years, obviously pleased the nobleman. He asked his godchild about his current status. But the honest answer from the impressive young man terrified him. Acquaintance with a skilled crook made him feel embarrassed. He started pondering, what could be the best way to get rid of such a dangerous person soon.

“Well,” said the nobleman to the young man, “Let us see whether you have properly learned your art, and became such a great thief that people can let you go honourably, or a petty thief who they will take to the gallows. I’ll have the second choice if you don’t pass three tasks I am going to give you!”
“Tell me, Godfather, I am not afraid of any kind of task.” – The Youngman declared boldly.
The nobleman thought for a little while, and then said, “Wait! I planned exactly three tests for you. Firstly, you have to steal my favourite horse from my stable. My stable is guarded by soldiers ready to slaughter everyone who dare invading it. Secondly, you have to steal the bed cloth from under my body, and the wedding ring from my wife’s finger when I am in bed with my wife. You should also know that I have pistols at hand all the time. For the third and last, you have to steal the pastor and the schoolmaster from the church. Then hang them both alive in a sack from my chimney. The gate and doors in the castle will be open for you.”

Before leaving, the master thief thanked his godfather for giving him such simple tasks.

 

CONTINUED IN Part 2…

He went his own way to take the first test next night. The nobleman made every effort to keep his favourite horse well-guarded. He ordered his best jockey to sit on it, another servant to take the bridle, a third to grab its tail. He ordered one soldier to guard the stable door. They kept vigil for hours. They felt frozen in unbearable cold of the night. Around midnight, all of them were thirsty. Suddenly they saw an old granny, coughing heavily, entering the courtyard. She was carrying a little barrel in a casket. The casket attracted the soldier. Why not? A barrel in the casket could contain some brandy which would be the best weapon to fight the cold of the foggy night. He called the old lady to sit beside the fire and asked her what was there inside the casket. He was right indeed! It was brandy, on the top of that it was refined, flavoured like double Seville orange, bitter Spanish or something like that.

The casket was neither empty nor covered. One whole roasted chicken was clearly visible inside. And the best thing was, the old granny was ready to sell the food and wine. The soldier went on purchasing one mug after another. Soon he got drunk; called the other keepers of the horse aloud, “Hey, wheat beer in flowing in the courtyard. Our granny brought pots full for us!”

The barrel emptied soon. The old granny was none other than the master-thief, who knew the art of disguising himself using different kinds of clothing. He mixed some sleeping powder with the drinks. Hence it did not take long before the soldier and others to fell asleep one after another. Within moments, the thief sneaked into the stable, sat on the horse and tried to lead it outside the stable. But no, the well-groomed horse was not ready to obey a thief’s order. The poor thief fell from the horse as he tried to ride. Then, he took a horse blanket, cut it into four pieces, and wrapped the pieces around the horse’s feet so that people can’t hear it galloping. Finally he took control of the steed and within moments – he crossed the castle gate!

As the sun came out bright next morning, the castle-owner looked out of the window to find a handsome rider galloping towards the courtyard. The horse was no less handsome and it seemed so familiar! The rider came closer and looked at the window.

“Good morning, Sir! Your steed is worth gold!” – shouted the young man.
“Go to hell!” screamed the nobleman, now able to see clearly that the horse was his pinto. “You are a bandit! Go ahead. Let your art exhibit!”

The castle-owner grabbed the riding-whip in full rage and hopped towards the stable. But what he saw there made him laugh out loud – the guards were still sleeping dead-drunk, making a pile of men at one corner of the yard. At the same time, an eerie thought came to his mind. He knew that the thief would come to his room that night to steal the bed sheet and ring. He would have to shoot him immediately as he did not want to let such a dangerous criminal move around.

The night approached. The nobleman went to bed; his wife beside him. He kept a loaded pistol and various other weapons at hand. He did not fall asleep, but stayed vigilant trying to listen whether anything was stirring in that cold deserted night.

All remained quiet for long. He was almost sure of the thief’s cowardice, who would not dare entering the castle fearing death. The castle-clock played midnight chime. Screech!! A sound came from below his window as if a long ladder was being dragged. Within moments the silhouette of a man showed up outside the window. It seemed he was to trying to get inside.

“Don’t be scared, my lady!” – whispered the man in his wife’s ears, took the pistol, aimed at the robber and clank! – He shot the robber right in the middle of his head. The robber shook a little and, a thud sound was heard almost instantaneously. “He will not get up again, but I would like to avoid a hue and cry. I will to go down the ladder quickly, that no noise is created in the house, and remove the dead robber’s body before anyone comes to know.”

The man did exactly what his wife thought he would do. Soon after, he showed up again and told her in her ears, “He is dead, but I want to wrap the poor devil in a linen sheet before throwing him into the pit. And – since he has lost his life chasing your valuable ring, I want to bury him along with that ring! Give me the ring and the bed linen.” The lady did not mind giving him both, and he hurried down again.

By now, you know who the visitor was. To carry out this second assignment perfectly, the thief had cut a freshly hanged man*** off from the row of best gallows, climbed the ladder loading him on own shoulders to mislead the nobleman and let the corpse tumble down as it was shot. Then he hid himself in the dark alley till the castle-owner came downstairs and took the trouble of removing the supposed victim from his courtyard. This gave him ample time to swiftly slink into the master’s bedroom and collect the ring and bed linen from the mistress imitating his godfather’s voice.

CONTINUED IN Part 3…

Next morning, the man of noble rank looked out of the window as usual. He saw a man coming uphill, as it seemed, to sell linen since he was carrying a bundle of linen folded on his shoulder. As the man came closer, he raised his hands to salute the owner of the castle, and a beautiful ring in his hand sparkled in the morning sun. “Good morning, Godfather! I wish you and Godmother had a good sleep!”

The nobleman was stunned to see the fraud whom he had shot the previous night with his own hand and thrown into a pit, standing before him. Worried, he asked his wife about the ring and linen. “Well, you demanded it from me last night!” replied the lady.

“The Satan! Not me!” – He rushed out of the room screaming in rage. But soon he returned, considering that the daring thief might steal more once he is out. He shouted standing at window, “Arch-rogue! The third! The third will surely take you to the gallows!” – shaking his fist.

The next night, something strange happened in the graveyard. The schoolmaster who lived nearby saw it first. He reported it to the pastor. Above the tombs, some tiny burning lights were moving in wobbly motion.
“Those are poor souls, schoolmaster!” – whispered the pastor, horrified. Suddenly a tall black figure appeared on the steps of the church, and started crying in a hollow tone :
“Come to me, all come to me running,
The judgement day for you is coming!
O children of men, it’s time to say your silent prayer;
The dead roam collecting their bones in despair!
Who wants to go to heaven with me?
Hurry! Come, enter this sack for free!”

“Shall we?” The schoolmaster asked the pastor. His teeth were chattering in fear. The pastor looked calm and confident – “It’s time, before the heaven’s gate closes. The holy apostle Peter calls us. That is not the question. But how to arrange the trip money?”
“I have got only twenty crowns.” – whispered the schoolmaster.
“I’ve saved a hundred Laubtaler**** for emergency.” – said the pastor. “Let’s take it with us,”
Both of them decided to go, and then, trembling with fear, they approached the black figure.

The clever thief planned it all very well. He had bought crabs from market and set burning wax candles on their backs so that they could turn into “poor souls” in the graveyard. Dressed in a monk’s beard and cowl, he brought a sack – those used to preserve hops. After taking the travel expense from the clergymen, he told them to step in the sacks. Tying up the sacks nicely, he dragged those through the village. As he came near a pond, he shouted, “Now it’s through the Red Sea!” then near the stream, “Now through the Kidron River!” The meadow where the castle was, the wind was cool, and so he shouted, “Now it goes through the Valley of Josaphat!”*****

He was carrying them up by the stairs screaming, “It reached the ladder to the heaven so soon!” He hanged the sacks on the chimney hook. Below in the kitchen, ham was being smoked. Hence good amount of smoke was coming out through the chimney, creating a hellish atmosphere there instead of resembling to a heavenly one. So he started shouting in a terrible voice, “Now it is purgatorial fire! This will take years for you!” The pastor and schoolmaster were almost choking – joined in a chorus with him. The terrible noise in the dark evening brought all members of the household there. Everybody was intensely curious.

The master-thief came down to the nobleman in courageous steps. “Sir, I passed third test too. Look at the chimney. The pastor and schoolmaster are hanging in the sack. You see them struggling inside and hear them screaming!”
“O you crooked devilish rogue! You satanic rascal – thief of all thieves!” – cried the nobleman before directing the servants to release the prisoners from the purgatory smoke. “You have secured victory over me. Get lost now! Here is a gold piece – your reward. Get away from me and never try to return. Go and hatch your gold, wherever you want!”

”Thank you for the best decision; you are my strict Godfather – I will do that!” – Replied the talented thief, “But don’t you want to redeem what I have honestly earned? Your favourite steed with two hundred crowns, your wife’s wedding ring and the bed-linen with a hundred crowns, the pastor’s and schoolmaster’s money with a hundred and twenty crowns! If not, then I’ll run away with all those.”

The nobleman, almost flabbergasted, told, “Dear devil, it was all a joke, you are not going to keep those items with you; I’ll give you life.”

“Good, then I will depart, and bring you all those valuables!” The thief left and got the horses harnessed to his carriage, helped his old parents sit in it, sat on the nobleman’s steed, and set out while the brilliant ring continued shining on his finger. He sent only the bed-linen back to his Godfather along with a small letter: “Give the pastor and the schoolmaster their money; otherwise your wife will be stolen!”- The humble thief.

The damage left the nobleman terrified for life. He no longer wanted to know anything about his foster son. He didn’t have any chance to learn anything from him either, for the crafty thief had moved with his parents to a far-off country. He became an honest and respectable man there.

* This “cap of South Thuringia” signifies that the story was collected from that region

** Godfather- the custom of god parenting found in Catholic belief of Baptism. Widely practiced in feudal Europe, but was prohibited by Munich council in 813 AD.

*** Death by hanging in public was regular punishment for thieves in medieval Germany. Gallows with hanging bodies were frequently found on roadside.

**** Laubtaler – also called Lorbeertaler, German name for the French 6-Livre-which was also in use in German speaking lands, especially in South Germany from 1726 till 1790.

***** Kidron River and Valley of Josaphat: mentions found in Hebrew bible as well as in Old Testament. In eastern side of Jerusalem, these are associated with biblical gods. The valley was later considered receptacle for all manner of impurities.

Photo credit – Wikimedia commons

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