One day, I drove my horses to the house of a peasant. When the old man opened the door, he asked me how he could help me. I stretched out my hand, and I said, “I want nothing more than to enjoy a good old fashioned country dish. Cook me some potatoes the way you have always made them.”

The man was eager to please a rich man like myself, and his wife went to the kitchen to prepare the potatoes. She made them into balls the way the peasants like to eat them.

Meanwhile, the peasant said, “Come into the garden. I’ll show you the work I’m doing there.”

He had dug a hole for a young tree, and I asked him, “Don’t you have a son to help you with the work?”

“Oh yes, I do, but he was a ne’er-do-well.’ He was clever, mind you, but he would learn nothing but bad tricks. He ran off and I haven’t seen him since.”

When the peasant finished planting the tree, he tied the stem to a post. He tied it above, below, and in the middle to keep it straight. 

“Tell me,” I said, “Why don’t you tie that crooked tree over there to a post? Then it can grow straight, too.” The knotted tree in the corner was bent almost to the ground.

The peasant laughed. “You are clearly not familiar with gardening. That tree is old and misshapen and no one can make it straight now. Trees have to be trained when they’re young.”

“Ah, well, that is what happened with your son. If you had trained him when he was still young, he would not have grown up misshapen. Would you know him to see him?”

“I wouldn’t know his face,” said the peasant. “But he had a birthmark on his shoulder the shape of a bean.”

I pulled off my coat and showed him my shoulder.

“Good God!” he cried. “How you have changed! But how did you become so rich?”

“Ah, well, father, I was bound to no post and so I have become quite crooked. But fear not. I’m good at what I do. I’m a master-thief.”

Master-Thief in The Master-Thief, Grimms. Painting “Wanderer” by Jamie Wyeth.

 master thief