The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

The Master Thief - Cont'd

"Hutetu" said one, and shivered and shook.

"Hutetu," said the old woman, and shivered so, that every tooth in her head chattered. Then she pulled out the flask with brandy in it, and her hand shook so that the spirit splashed about in the flask, and then she took such a gulp, that it went "bop" in her throat.

"What's that you've got in your flask, old girl?" said one of the grooms.

"Oh, it's only a drop of brandy, old man," said she.

"Brandy! Well, I never! Do let me have a drop," screamed the whole twelve, one after another. "Oh, but it is such a little drop," mumbled the old woman, "it will not even wet your mouths round." But they must and would have it; there was no help for it; and so she pulled out the flask with the sleepy drink in it, and put it to the first man's lips; then she shook no more, but guided the flask so that each of them got what he wanted, and the twelfth had not done drinking before the first sat and snored. Then the Master Thief threw off his beggar's rags, and took one groom after the other so softly off their horses, and set them astride on the beams between the stalls; and so he called his eleven men, and rode off with the Squire's twelve horses.

But when the Squire got up in the morning, and went to look after his grooms, they had just begun to come to; and some of them fell to spurring the beams with their p. 247 spurs, till the splinters flew again, and some fell off, and some still hung on and sat there looking like fools.

"Ho! ho!" said the Squire; "I see very well who has been here; but as for you, a pretty set of blockheads you must be to sit here and let the Master Thief steal the horses from between your legs."

So they all got a good leathering because they had not kept a sharper look-out.

Farther on in the day came the Master Thief again, and told how he had managed the matter, and asked for the Squire's daughter, as he had promised; but the Squire gave him one hundred dollars down, and said he must do something better still.

"Do you think now," said he, "you can steal the horse from under me while I am out riding on his back?"

"O, yes! I daresay I could," said the Master Thief, "if I were really sure of getting your daughter."

Well, well, the Squire would see what he could do and he told the Master Thief a day when he would be taking a ride on a great common where they drilled the troops. So the Master Thief soon got hold of an old worn-out jade of a mare, and set to work, and made traces and collar of withies and broom-twigs, and bought an old beggarly cart and a great cask. After that he told an old beggar woman he would give her ten dollars if she would get inside the cask, and keep her mouth agape over the taphole, into which he was going to stick his finger. No harm should happen to her; she should only be driven about a little; and if he took his finger out more than once, she was to have ten dollars more. Then he threw a few rags and tatters over himself, and stuffed himself out, and p. 248 put on a wig and a great beard of goat's hair, so that no one could know him again, and set off for the common, where the Squire had already been riding about a good bit. When he reached the place, he went along so softly and slowly that he scarce made an inch of way. "Gee up! Gee up!" and so he went on a little; then he stood stock still, and so on a little again; and altogether the pace was so poor it never once came into the Squire's head that this could be the Master Thief.

At last the Squire rode right up to him, and asked if he had seen any one lurking about in the wood thereabouts.

"No," said the man, "I haven't seen a soul."

"Harkye, now," said the Squire, "if you have a mind to ride into the wood, and hunt about and see if you can fall upon any one lurking about there, you shall have the loan of my horse, and a shilling into the bargain, to drink my health for your pains."

"I don't see how I can go," said the man, "for I am going to a wedding with this cask of mead, which I have been to town to fetch, and here the tap has fallen out by the way, and so I must go along holding my finger in the taphole."

"Ride off," said the Squire; "I'll look after your horse and cask."

Well, on these terms the man was willing to go; but he begged the Squire to be quick in putting his finger into the taphole when he took his own out, and to mind and keep it there till he came back. At last the Squire grew weary of standing there with his finger in the taphole, so he took it out.

"Now I shall have ten dollars more!" screamed the old p. 249 woman inside the cask; and then the Squire saw at once how the land lay, and took himself off home; but he had not gone far before they met him with a fresh horse, for the Master Thief had already been to his house, and told them to send one.

The day after he came to the Squire and would have his daughter, as he had given his word; but the Squire put him off again with fine words, and gave him two hundred dollars, and said he must do one more masterpiece. If he could do that, he should have her. Well, well, the Master Thief thought he could do it, if he only knew what it was to be.

"Do you think, now," said the Squire, "you can steal the sheet off our bed, and the shift off my wife's back. Do you think you could do that?"

"It shall be done," said the Master Thief. "I only wish I was as sure of getting your daughter."

So when night began to fall, the Master Thief went out and cut down a thief who hung on the gallows, and threw him across his shoulders, and carried him off. Then he got a long ladder and set it up against the Squire's bed-room window, and so climbed up, and kept bobbing the dead man up and down, just for all the world like one that was peeping in at the window.

"That's the Master Thief, old lass!" said the Squire, and gave his wife a nudge on the side. "Now see if I don't shoot him, that's all."

So saying, he took up a rifle, which he had laid at his bedside.

"No, no! pray don't shoot him after telling him he might come and try," said his wife.

p. 250

"Don't talk to me, for shoot him I will," said he; and so he lay there and aimed and aimed; but as soon as the head came up before the window, and he saw a little of it, so soon was it down again. At last he thought he had a good aim; "bang" went the gun, down fell the dead body to the ground with a heavy thump, and down went the Master Thief too as fast as he could.

"Well," said the Squire, "it is quite true that I am the chief magistrate in these parts; but people are fond of talking, and it would be a bore if they came to see this dead man's body. I think the best thing to be done is that I should go down and bury him."

"You must do as you think best, dear," said his wife. So the Squire got out of bed and went down-stairs, and he had scarce put his foot out of the door before the Master Thief stole in, and went straight upstairs to his wife.

"Why, dear, back already!" said she, for she thought it was her husband.

"O yes, I only just put him into a hole, and threw a little earth over him. It is enough that he is out of sight, for it is such a bad night out of doors; by and by I'll do it better. But just let me have the sheet to wipe myself with--he was so bloody-- and I have made myself in such a mess with him."

So he got the sheet.

After a while he said-- "Do you know I am afraid you must let me have your night-shift too, for the sheet won't do by itself; that I can see."

So she gave him the shift also. But just then it came across his mind that he had forgotten to lock the house-door, p. 251 so he must step down and look to that before he came back to bed, and away he went with both shift and sheet.

A little while after came the true Squire.

"Why! what a time you've taken to lock the door, dear!" said his wife; "and what have you done with the sheet and shift?"

"What do you say?" said the Squire.

"Why, I am asking what you have done with sheet and shift that you had to wipe off the blood," said she.

"What, in the Deil's name!" said the Squire, "has he taken me in this time too?"

Next day came the Master Thief and asked for the Squire's daughter, as he had given his word; and then the Squire dared not do anything else than give her to him, and a good lump of money into the bargain; for, to tell the truth, he was afraid lest the Master Thief should steal the eyes out of his head, and that the people would begin to say spiteful things of him if he broke his word. So Master Thief lived well and happily from that time forward. I don't know whether he stole any more; but if he did, I am quite sure it was only for the sake of a bit of fun.

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