A poor cottager had nothing to give his three sons, so he walked with them to a crossroad, where each son the child thief pdf a different road. The old woman there warned him that it is a den of robbers, but he stayed, and when the robbers arrived, he persuaded them to take him on as a servant.
They set him to prove himself by stealing an ox that a man brought to market to sell. He took a shoe with a silver buckle and left it in the road. The man saw it and thought it would be good if only he had the other, and went on. The son took the shoe and ran through the countryside, to leave it in the road again. The man left his ox and went back to find the other, and the son drove the ox off. The man went back to get the second ox to sell it, and the robbers told the son that if he stole that one as well, they would take him into the band.
The son hanged himself up along the way, and when the man passed, ran on and hanged himself again, and then a third time, until the man was half-convinced that it was witchcraft and went back to see if the first two bodies were still hanging, and the son drove off his ox. The man went for his third and last ox, and the robbers said that they would make him the band’s leader if he stole it. The son made a sound like an ox bellowing in the woods, and the man, thinking it was his stolen oxen, ran off, leaving the third behind, and the son stole that one as well. The robbers were not pleased with his leading the band, and so they all left him.
The son drove the oxen out, so they returned to their owner, took all the treasure in the house, and returned to his father. He decided to marry the daughter of a local squire and sent his father to ask for her hand, telling him to tell the squire that he was a Master Thief. The squire agreed, if the son could steal the roast from the spit on Sunday. The son caught three hares and released them near the squire’s kitchen, and the people there, thinking it was one hare, went out to catch it, and the son got in and stole the roast. The priest made fun of him, and when the Master Thief came to claim his reward, the squire asked him to prove his skill further, by playing some trick on the priest.
The Master Thief dressed up as an angel and convinced the priest that he was come to take him to heaven. He dragged the priest over stones and thorns and threw him into the goose-house, telling him it was purgatory, and then stole all his treasure. The squire was pleased, but still put off the Master Thief, telling him to steal twelve horses from his stable, with twelve grooms in their saddles. The Master Thief prepared and disguised himself as an old woman to take shelter in the stable, and when the night grew cold, drank brandy against it. The grooms demanded some, and he gave them a drugged drink, putting them to sleep, and stole the horses. The squire put him off again, asking if he could steal a horse while he was riding it.