The Young Robber Chief
Once there lived a poor peasant whose wife had died, leaving with three sons. When they were old enough, he called his sons together. “I have no money to give you,” he said sadly. “Go out into the world and seek your fortunes, my sons, and heaven be with you!”
He went with them as far as the crossroads, where the road branched into three, and there he said goodbye.
The youngest son took the road to the right. He walked all day, and by evening, he found himself in a dark forest. Soon, there was a terrible storm.
Seeing the light shining nearby, he made his way to it and found a small house.
He went inside and saw an older woman standing before a blazing fire.
“I am seeking shelter from this terrible storm,” said the lad. “May I stay here for the night?”
“It will be a bad night’s work for you if you do,” replied the old woman. “Go while there is time, for this house is owned by a band of robbers.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” replied the youth. “If that is all, I will stay here for the night.”
Before long, they heard the sound of the robbers returning, and while they ate, the older woman told them how the lad had come asking for shelter. “Has he any money?” asked one of the robbers.
“No, and his clothes are in rags,” said the old woman. “He is only a poor peasant lad.”
“What will we do with him then?” asked another. “Should we let him go now he knows our hideout?”
At that, the young man entered the room. “Do you want a servant?” he asked. “My name is Hans, and I am willing to work hard if you let me stay.”
The robber chief looked him up and down. “Stay then. We accept your offer,” he said. “However, we must know that you accept our profession. Not far from here lives a peasant who owns three oxen. Tomor- row at dawn, he is taking one of them to market to sell. You may become our servant if you steal the ox without harming the man.”
The following day at dawn, the young man entered the forest. He took a shoe belonging to the older woman, which had a shining gold buckle on it.
He placed it beside the road and then sat and waited. Soon the peasant came past, leading his ox. He stopped when he saw the shoe and went to have a closer look.
“What a fine shoe,” he said. “If only there were two, I would take them home to my wife. It might stop her nagging for a bit.” Shaking his head sadly, he went on his way.
As soon as he had gone, Hans picked up the shoe, ran through the trees and placed it at the side of the road a little farther on.
When the peasant saw it, he was delighted. “Here is the other shoe,” he said. “I will go back and fetch the first one and take them home to my wife.” He tied his ox to a tree and returned, but hard as he searched, he could not find the other shoe. Worse still, when he returned, he discovered that the ox and shoe had gone.
The poor peasant went home quietly so his nagging wife would not hear him. “I must take the second ox to market and get a good price. Then she will never know,” he said.
The robbers were surprised at Hans’ skill. “If you steal the second ox without harming the man, you shall join us instead of being our servant,” said the leader.
This time, Hans left the cottage and took the hilt of a dagger with him. He lay beside the road, with the dagger hilt sticking out of his coat and pretending to be dead.
He shook his head sadly when the peasant passed, leading his second ox. “Poor fellow, he must have been murdered by brigands,” he said.
As soon as he had gone, Hans leapt up, ran through the trees and lay down again at the side of the road, pretending to be dead. The peasant saw him and exclaimed, “How terrible, another one.”
A third time the young man rushed through the trees and lay down at the side of the road. When the peasant came past, he could not believe his eyes. “I must be dreaming,” he said. “I will just go back and make sure.” With that, he tied his ox to a tree and went back along the road, and Hans quickly jumped up, untied it and led it away.
The robbers were amazed. “If you steal the third ox, we will make you our chief,” they said.
The next day, Hans went out and hid in the wood. Hans began to bellow softly when the peasant came by with the third ox. The peasant stopped and listened. “That is the sound of an ox,” he said. “My others must have broken loose and wandered in the forest.” He tied the third ox to a tree and searched for them, and in a flash, Hans had untied it and led it away.
Hans was made the robber chief, and as they did not want the oxen, they turned them loose to return to their stall, much to the peasant’s delight.
When the robbers left the next day, Hans stayed behind, saying he was tired. Then he dressed in fine clothes and went to see his father.
“Now that I am a robber chief,” he said, “go to the judge, our neighbour, and tell him that I wish to marry his daughter.”
With many misgivings, the older man did so, and the judge roared with laughter. “If this robber chief can steal the joint of meat from my oven tomorrow, he can become my son-in-law,” he replied.
Next day, the young man. Dressed as a beggar, and went to the judge’s house. He took with him a sack in which he had three hares.
He stood outside the house, begging for alms. Everyone was in the kitchen, guarding the joint, but the kitchen boy threw some coins out of the window.
Hans went and hid behind the garden wall. Then he pulled a hare from his sack and let it run into the garden. Every- one in the kitchen saw it, and the judge, who was very fond of jugged hare, said, “What a pity we cannot catch it.”
After a time, Hans let a second hare run into the garden, and everyone longed to catch it. When Hans let a third hare go, nobody could resist it, and they all rushed out of the door in pursuit while Hans slipped into the kitchen and stole the joint from the oven.
The judge could not break his promise, and he had to let Hans marry his daughter, but he made his new son-in-law agree that he would no longer be a robber chief.
“I only became a brigand for fun in the first place,” said Hans. “Now, I shall be more than content to do an honest day’s work for my living.”
He did so, and he and his wife lived happily together for many years.