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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

No. 12.--The Gypsy and the Priest

There was a very poor Gypsy, and he had many little children. And his wife went to the town, begged herself a few potatoes and a little flour. And she had no fat.

All right,' she thought; 'wait a bit. The priest has killed a pig; I'll go and beg myself a bit of fat.'

When she got there, the priest came out, took his whip, thrashed her soundly. She came home, said to her husband,' O my God, I did just get a thrashing!'

And the Gypsy is at work. Straightway the hammer fell from his hand. 'Now, wait a bit till I show him a trick, and teach him a lesson.'

The Gypsy went to the church, and took a look at the door, how to make the key to the tower. He came home, sat down at his anvil, set to work at once on the key. When he had made it, he went back to try to open the door. It opened it as though it had been made for it.

'Wait a bit, now,' he thinks to himself; 'what shall I need next?'

He went straight off to the shop, and bought himself some fine paper, just like the fine clothes the priests wear for high mass. When he had bought it, he went to the tailor, told him to make him clothes like an angel's; he looked in them

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just like a priest. He came home, told his son (he was twenty years old), 'Hark’ee, mate, come along with me, and bring the pot. Catch about a hundred crabs. Ha! they shall see what I'll do this night; the priest won't escape with his life.'

All right!

Midnight came. The Gypsy went to the church, lit all the lights that were in the church. The cook goes to look out. 'My God! what's the matter? the whole church is lighted up.'

She goes to the priest, wakes him up. 'Get up! Let's go and see what it is. The whole church is blazing inside. What ever is it?'

The priest was in a great fright. He pulled on his vestment, and went to the church to see. The Gypsy chants like a priest performing service in the great church where the greatest folks go to service. 'Oh!' the Gypsy was chanting, 'O God, he who is a sinful man, for him am I come; him who takes so much money with him will I fetch to Paradise, and there it shall be well with him.'

When the gentleman heard that, he went home, and got all the money he had in the house.

All right!

The priest came back to the church. The Gypsy chants to him to make haste, for sooner or later the end of all things approaches. Straightway the Gypsy opened the sack, and the priest got into it. The Gypsy took all the priest's money, and hid it in his pocket.

'Good! now you are mine.'

When he closed the sack, the priest was in a great fright. 'My God! what will become of me? I know not what sort of a being that is, whether God Himself or an angel.'

The Gypsy straightway drags the priest down the steps. The priest cries that it hurts him, that he should go gently with him, for he is all broken already; that half an hour of that will kill him, for his bones are all broken already.

Well, he dragged him along the nave of the church, and pitched him down before the door; and he put a lot of thorns there to run into the priest's flesh. He dragged him backwards and forwards through the thorns, and the thorns stuck into him. When the Gypsy saw that the priest was

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more dead than alive, he opened the sack, and left him there.

The Gypsy went home, and threw off his disguise, and put it on the fire, that no one might say he had done the deed. The Gypsy had more than eight hundred silver pieces. So he and his wife and his children were glad that they had such a lot of money; and if the Gypsy has not died with his wife and his children, perhaps he is living still.

In the morning when the sexton comes to ring the bell, he sees a sack in front of the church. The priest was quite dead. When he opened it and saw the priest, he was in a great fright. 'What on earth took our priest in there?' He runs into the town, made a great outcry, that so and so has happened. The poor folks came and the gentry to see what was up: all the candles in the church were burning. So they buried the parson decently. If he is not rotten he is whole. May the devils still be eating him. I was there, and heard everything that happened.

The briefest epitome will serve of our third Gypsy version, from Hungary, Dr. Friedrich Müller's No. 1, which is very coarse and very disconnected:--'Somewhere was, somewhere was not, lucky, Golden God! somewhere was, somewhere was not, a poor Gypsy.' An old woman tells him, 'Go into yonder castle, and there is the lady; and take from her the ring, and put it on thine own hand, and turn it thrice, then so much meal and bread will be to thee that thou wilt not know what to do with it.' . . . He wins twenty-four wagon-loads of money for seducing the nobleman's wife, which he achieves by luring away the nobleman with a corpse. The Gypsy then kills his children and his wife; cheats an old woman of her money; cures and marries the king's daughter; leaves her, because she will not go and sell the nails he manufactures; and finally marries a Gypsy girl, who pleases him much better.

Our next version, 'Jack the Robber,' is from South Wales, told to Mr. Sampson by Cornelius Price. It is as good as the last one is bad, but like it somewhat Rabelaisian. The following is a summary of the first half, the latter (our No. 68) being a variant of Dasent's 'Big Peter and Little Peter':--A poor widow has a son, Jack, who 'took to smoking when he was twelve, and got to robbing the master's plough-socks to take ’em to the blacksmith's to sell ’em to rise bacca.' So the farmer makes the mother send Jack away from home; and Jack comes to a big gentleman's hall. This gentleman is the head of eleven robbers, and Jack, after cunningly relieving

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one of them of £11, joins the band, and in six months 'got a cleverer robber than what the master hisself was.' So, with the money he has made, he sets off for his mother's, meets the farmer, tells him he has been prentice to a robber, and, to test his skill, is set to steal two sheep in succession. He does so by the familiar expedients of, first, a boot here and a boot there, and, next, baaing like a lost sheep. Then Jack is set to take the middlemost sheet from underneath the farmer and his missus, and achieves it by 'loosing a dead body down the chimley,' which the farmer shoots dead, as he fancies, and goes off to bury.

The fifth and last version, 'The Great Thief,' is from North Wales, told by Matthew Wood, and is thus summarised by Mr. Sampson:--'Hard by a parson lived a thief. The parson told the thief, "To-morrow my man goes to the butcher with a sheep. Steal it, and you shall have such and such money." Thief gets a pair of new boots, and places one on one stile, the other on another further on. Man sees first boot and leaves it, finds other, ties up sheep, and goes back for the first. Thief steals sheep. The parson says again, "I want you to steal my wife's ring from her finger and the sheet from under her. If you can't, I shall behead you." Thief makes dummy man, and props it against wall. Parson shoots it, comes out, and buries it in well. Meanwhile thief visits wife, pretending to be parson, and takes her ring and sheet for safety. Parson returns and discovers the trick.'

Though not, at least but very conjecturally, a Gypsy version, the following version is still worth citing. It is from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, vol. iii. (1861), pp. 388-390:--'An intelligent-looking boy, aged 16, a native of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire; at 13 apprenticed to a tailor; in three months' time ran away; went home again for seven months, then ran away again, and since a vagrant. Had read Windsor Castle, Tower of London, etc. He gives account of amusements in casual wards:

'"We told stories sometimes, romantic tales some; others black-guard kind of tales, about bad women; and others about thieving and roguery; not so much about what they'd done themselves, as about some big thief that was very clever and could trick anybody. Not stories such as Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard, or things that's in history, but inventions. I used to say when I was telling a story--for I've told one story that I invented till I learnt it. [I give this story to show what are the objects of admiration with these vagrants 1]:--

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'"You see, mates, it was once upon a time, and a very good time it was, a young man, and he runned away, and got along with a gang of thieves, and he went to a gentleman's house, and got in because one of his mates sweethearted the servant, and got her away, and she left the door open. And the door being left open, the young man got in, and robbed the house of a lot of money, £1000, and he took it to their gang at the cave. Next day there was a reward out to find the robber. Nobody found him. So the gentleman put two men and a horse in a field, and the men were hidden in the field, and the gentleman put out a notice that anybody that could catch the horse should have him for his cleverness, and a reward as well; for he thought the man that got the £1000 was sure to try to catch that there horse, because he was so bold and clever, and then the two men hid would nab him. This here Jack (that's the young man) was watching, and he saw the two men, and he went and caught two live hares. Then he hid himself behind a hedge, and let one hare go, and one man said to the other, 'There goes a hare,' and they both ran after it, not thinking Jack's there. And while they were running he let go t’other one, and they said, 'There's another hare,' and they ran different ways, and so Jack went and got the horse, and took it to the man that offered the reward, and got the reward; it was £100; and the gentleman said, 'D--- it, Jack's done me this time.' The gentleman then wanted to serve out the parson, and he said to Jack, 'I'll give you another £100 if you'll do something to the parson as bad as you've done to me.' Jack said, 'Well, I will'; and Jack went to the church and lighted up the lamps and rang the bells, and the parson he got up to see what was up. Jack was standing in one of the pews like an angel; when the parson got to the church, Jack said, 'Go and put your plate in a bag; I'm an angel come to take you up to heaven.' And the parson did so, and it was as much as he could drag to church from his house in a bag; for he was very rich. And when he got to church Jack put the parson in one bag, and the money stayed in the other; and he tied them both together, and put them across his horse, and took them up hill and through water to the gentleman's, and then he took the parson out of the bag, and the parson was wringing wet. Jack fetched the gentleman, and the gentleman gave the parson a horsewhipping, and the parson cut away, and Jack got all the parson's money and the second £100, and gave it all to the poor. And the parson brought an action against the gentleman for horsewhipping him, and they were both ruined. That's the end of it. That's the sort of story that's liked best, sir."


Dasent, 'The Master Thief' (Tales from the Norse, p. 255). He

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takes service with robbers. Steals three oxen, the first one by a shoe here and a shoe there, the third by imitating lost ox. He steals the squire's roast, first catching three hares alive. He steals Father Laurence in a sack, but not out of church, posing as an angel, and bidding him lay out all his gold and silver. N.B. No crabs, no lighting of candles.

Grimm, No. 192, 'The Master Thief' (ii. 324). He steals horse from under rider. Steals sheet from under count's wife, first luring count away by means of corpse. Disguised like monk, he steals parson and clerk out of church in sack, bumping them against steps, and dragging them through puddles--'mountains' and 'clouds.' No mention of plate or money. Neither of these two versions can be the original of Mayhew's English vagrant one.

Straparola (Venice, 1550), No. 2, 'The Knave.' First, he steals from the provost the bed on which he is lying; next, horse on which stable-boy is sitting; and thirdly, an ecclesiastical personage in sack.

De Gubernatis (Zool. Myth., i. 204) alludes to the famous robber Klimka, in Afanasief, v. 6, who, by means of a drum (in Indian tales a trumpet) terrifies his accomplices, the robbers, and then steals from a gentleman his horse, his jewel-casket, even his wife.

'Les Deux Voleurs' (Dozon's Contes Albanais, p. 169) has two thieves with the same mistress, as in Barbu Constantinescu. One of them, posing as the angel Gabriel, steals the cadi in a chest at the instigation of a pasha whom the cadi has ridiculed.

Much more striking are the analogies offered by 'Voleur par Nature' (Legrand's Contes Grecs, p. 205) from Cyprus. Here we get the stealing of two sheep, first by a boot here and a boot there, and next by baaing like a lost sheep. Then we have the stealing of one of a yoke of oxen, the robbery of the king's treasure-house, the consulting a robber in prison, a caldron of pitch, the headless robber, the exposure of his corpse, and, lastly, the marriage of the surviving thief and the princess.

For heroic form of 'The Master Thief' see Hahn's No. 3, 'Von dem Schönen and vom Drakos.' Hero has to steal winged horse of the dragon, coverlet of dragon's bed, and the dragon himself. He steals him in a box, and marries the king's daughter. In Laura Gonzenbach's most curious Sicilian story, No. 83, 'Die Geschichte von Caraseddu' (ii. 142-145), the hero steals the horse of the 'dragu' (? dragon, rather than cannibal), next his bed-cover, and lastly the 'dragu' himself; with which compare the Bukowina-Gypsy story, 'Tropsyn,' No. 27. In Hahn, ii. p. 182, we have mention of sack, in variant 4 of ring of the dragon. Cf. infra, p. 109.

Finally, three little points connecting the Gypsies and the 'Master Thief' may be noted. Mrs. Carlyle's 'mother's mother was a grand-niece of Matthew Baillie,' a famous Scottish Gypsy, who, as she said, could steal a horse from under the owner, if he liked, but left always the saddle and bridle.' John Macdonald, travelling tinker, 'knew the story of the "Shifty Lad," though not well enough to repeat it' (Campbell's Tales of the West Highlands, i. 142, 356). An English Gypsy once said

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to me, 'The folks hereabouts are a lot of rátfalo heathens; they all think they're going to heaven in a sack.'

Dr. Barbu Constantinescu's 'Two Thieves' is so curious a combination of the 'Rhampsinitus' story in Herodotus and of Grimm's 'Master Thief,' that I am more than inclined to regard it as the lost original which, according to Campbell of Islay, 'it were vain to look for in any modern work or in any modern age.' The 'Rhampsinitus' story and the 'Master Thief' have both been made special subjects of study--the former by Reinhold Köhler in Orient and Occident, 1864, pp. 303-316, by Clouston in his Popular Tales and Fictions (1887, ii. 115-165), and by Sir George Cox in Fraser's Magazine (July 1880, pp. 96-111); the latter by M. Cosquin in Contes Populaires de Lorraine (1887; ii. 271-281, 364-5). With their help and that of the above jottings, we can analyse the Gypsy story of the 'Two Thieves' detail by detail, and see in how many and how widely-separated non-Gypsy versions some of those details have to be sought:--

(1) A town thief meets a country thief, and is challenged by him to steal the eggs of a magpie without her noticing it.--Grimm, No. 129, and Kashmir and Kabyle versions. (2) Whilst doing so, he is himself robbed unawares of his breeches by the country thief. The stealing of the labourer's paijámas in Kashmir version is analogous. (3) They enter into partnership, and have one wife.--Albanian version. (4) They go to the king's palace, and, making a hole in the roof, descend and steal money. The king, discovering his loss, takes counsel with an old robber in prison.--So in Dolopathos, modern Greek, and Cypriote versions. (5) By his advice the king finds out hole by lighting a fire in the treasure-house, and noticing where the smoke escapes.--Dolopathos, Pecorone, old French, Breton, old Dutch, Danish, Kabyle. (6) Under the hole he sets a cask of molasses.--Snare in 'Rhampsinitus,' Tyrolese, Kabyle; pitch in old English, modern Greek, Cypriote, old French, Gaelic, old Dutch, Danish. (7) The country thief is caught, and his comrade cuts off his head.--'Rhampsinitus,' Pecorone, old English, old French, Breton, Gaelic, Tyrolese, Danish, Kabyle, Tibetan, Cinghalese. (8) The headless trunk is exposed, and the comrade steals it by intoxicating the guards.--'Rhampsinitus,' Sicilian, Breton, Gaelic, old Dutch, Russian. (9) He further cheats them of 400 groats as payment for his horse, which he pretends the dead thief has stolen.--Wanting elsewhere. (10) The king then puts a prohibitive price on all the meat in the city, thinking the thief will betray himself by alone being able to pay it; but the thief steals a joint.--Italian (Pecorone, 1378, ix. 1; and Prof Crane's Italian Popular Tales, p. 166). (11) The king finally makes a proclamation, offering his daughter to the thief, who plucks up courage and reveals himself.--'Rhampsinitus,' Pecorone, Sicilian, modern Greek, Tyrolese, Kabyle. (12) To exhibit his skill, he steals one of a yoke of oxen.--Russian (De Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, i. 186, from Afanasief). (13) As a further test he steals the priest out of the church in a sack, out of which he has just let 300 crabs, each with a lighted taper fastened to its claw. According to Cosquin, the complete crab episode occurs only in Grimm (he of

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course knows nothing of our Gypsy version). But herein he for once is wrong, since we find it also in Krauss's Croatian version of the 'Master Thief' (No. 55), which bears the title of 'The Lad who was up to Gypsy Tricks'; its hero, indeed, is generally styled 'the Gypsy.' He is a Gypsy in Dr. Friedrich Müller's Gypsy variant, and in Dr. von Sowa's. In the latter version, as in several non-Gypsy ones, the hero, it will be noticed, catches crabs, but makes no use whatever of them afterwards.


49:1 Clearly Mr. Mayhew was no folklorist. The boy's claim to have invented the story is worth noting.

Next: No. 13.--The Watchmaker