PINKEL THE THIEF
(Thorpe’s Yule-Tide Stories.)
Long, long ago there lived a widow who had three sons.
The two eldest were grown up, and though they were
known to be idle fellows, some of the neighbours had
given them work to do on account of the respect in
which their mother was held. But at the time this
story begins they had both been so careless and idle
that their masters declared they would keep them no
So home they went to their mother and youngest
brother, of whom they thought little, because he made
himself useful about the house, and looked after the hens,
and milked the cow. ‘Pinkel,’ they called him in scorn,
and by-and-by ‘Pinkel’ became his name throughout the
The two young men thought it was much nicer to live
at home and be idle than to be obliged to do a quantity
of disagreeable things they did not like, and they would
have stayed by the fire till the end of their lives had
not the widow lost patience with them and said that
since they would not look for work at home they
must seek it elsewhere, for she would not have them
under her roof any longer. But she repented bitterly
of her words when Pinkel told her that he too was
old enough to go out into the world, and that when he had
made a fortune he would send for his mother to keep house
The widow wept many tears at parting from her
youngest son, but as she saw that his heart was set
upon going with his brothers, she did not try to keep him.
So the young men started off one morning in high spirits,
never doubting that work such as they might be willing
to do would be had for the asking, as soon as their little
store of money was spent.
But a very few days of wandering opened their eyes.
Nobody seemed to want them, or, if they did, the young
men declared that they were not able to undertake all
that the farmers or millers or woodcutters required of
them. The youngest brother, who was wiser, would
gladly have done some of the work that the others
refused, but he was small and slight, and no one thought
of offering him any. Therefore they went from one
place to another, living only on the fruit and nuts
they could find in the woods, and getting hungrier every
One night, after they had been walking for many
hours and were very tired, they came to a large lake
with an island in the middle of it. From the island
streamed a strong light, by which they could see everything
almost as clearly as if the sun had been shining,
and they perceived that, lying half hidden in the rushes,
was a boat.
‘Let us take it and row over to the island, where
there must be a house,’ said the eldest brother; ‘and
perhaps they will give us food and shelter.’ And they all
got in and rowed across in the direction of the light. As
they drew near the island they saw that it came from a
golden lantern hanging over the door of a hut, while
sweet tinkling music proceeded from some bells attached
to the golden horns of a goat which was feeding near the
cottage. The young men’s hearts rejoiced as they
thought that at last they would be able to rest their
weary limbs, and they entered the hut, but were amazed
to see an ugly old woman inside, wrapped in a cloak of
gold which lighted up the whole house. They looked
at each other uneasily as she came forward with her
daughter, as they knew by the cloak that this was a famous
‘What do you want?’ asked she, at the same time
signing to her daughter to stir the large pot on the
‘We are tired and hungry, and would fain have shelter
for the night,’ answered the eldest brother.
‘You cannot get it here,’ said the witch, ‘but you will
find both food and shelter in the palace on the other side
of the lake. Take your boat and go; but leave this boy
with me—I can find work for him, though something
tells me he is quick and cunning, and will do me ill.’
‘What harm can a poor boy like me do a great Troll
like you,’ answered Pinkel. ‘Let me go, I pray you,
with my brothers. I will promise never to hurt you.’
And at last the witch let him go, and he followed his brothers
to the boat.
The way was further than they thought, and it was
morning before they reached the palace.
Now, at last, their luck seemed to have turned, for
while the two eldest were given places in the king’s stables,
Pinkel was taken as page to the little prince. He was
a clever and amusing boy, who saw everything that passed
under his eyes, and the king noticed this, and often employed
him in his own service, which made his brothers
Things went on in this way for some time, and
Pinkel every day rose in the royal favour. At length the
envy of his brothers became so great that they could
bear it no longer, and consulted together how best they
might ruin his credit with the king. They did not wish
to kill him—though, perhaps, they would not have been
sorry if they had heard he was dead—but merely wished
to remind him that he was after all only a child, not half
so old and wise as they.
Their opportunity soon came. It happened to be the
king’s custom to visit his stables once a week, so that he
might see that his horses were being properly cared for.
The next time he entered the stables the two brothers
managed to be in the way, and when the king praised
the beautiful satin skins of the horses under their charge,
and remarked how different was their condition when his
grooms had first come across the lake, the young men at
once began to speak of the wonderful light which sprang
from the lantern over the hut. The king, who had a
passion for collecting all the rarest things he could find,
fell into the trap directly, and inquired where he could
get this marvellous lantern.
‘Send Pinkel for it, Sire,’ said they. ‘It belongs to
an old witch, who no doubt came by it in some evil way.
But Pinkel has a smooth tongue, and he can get the better
of any woman, old or young.’
‘Then bid him go this very night,’ cried the king; ‘and
if he brings me the lantern I will make him one of the
chief men about my person.’
Pinkel was much pleased at the thought of his
adventure, and without more ado he borrowed a little
boat which lay moored to the shore, and rowed over to
the island at once. It was late by the time he arrived,
and almost dark, but he knew by the savoury smell that
reached him that the witch was cooking her supper. So
he climbed softly on to the roof, and, peering, watched
till the old woman’s back was turned, when he quickly
drew a handful of salt from his pocket and threw it into
the pot. Scarcely had he done this when the witch
called her daughter and bade her lift the pot off the fire
and put the stew into a dish, as it had been cooking quite
long enough and she was hungry. But no sooner had
she tasted it than she put her spoon down, and declared
that her daughter must have been meddling with it, for
it was impossible to eat anything that was all made of
‘Go down to the spring in the valley, and get some
fresh water, that I may prepare a fresh supper,’ cried she,
‘for I feel half-starved.’
‘But, mother,’ answered the girl, ‘how can I find the
well in this darkness? For you know that the lantern’s
rays shed no light down there.’
‘Well, then, take the lantern with you,’ answered the
witch, ‘for supper I must have, and there is no water
that is nearer.’
So the girl took her pail in one hand and the golden
lantern in the other, and hastened away to the well,
followed by Pinkel, who took care to keep out of the way
of the rays. When at last she stooped to fill her pail at
the well Pinkel pushed her into it, and snatching up the
lantern hurried back to his boat and rowed off from the
He was already a long distance from the island when
the witch, who wondered what had become of her
daughter, went to the door to look for her. Close around
the hut was thick darkness, but what was that bobbing
light that streamed across the water? The witch’s
heart sank as all at once it flashed upon her what had
‘Is that you, Pinkel?’ cried she; and the youth
‘Yes, dear mother, it is I!’
‘And are you not a knave for robbing me?’ said she.
‘Truly, dear mother, I am,’ replied Pinkel, rowing
faster than ever, for he was half afraid that the witch
might come after him. But she had no power on the
water, and turned angrily into the hut, muttering to herself
all the while:
‘Take care! take care! A second time you will not
escape so easily!’
The sun had not yet risen when Pinkel returned to
the palace, and, entering the king’s chamber, he held up
the lantern so that its rays might fall upon the bed. In
an instant the king awoke, and seeing the golden lantern
shedding its light upon him, he sprang up, and embraced
Pinkel with joy.
‘O cunning one,’ cried he, ‘what treasure hast thou
brought me!’ And calling for his attendants he ordered
that rooms next his own should be prepared for Pinkel,
and that the youth might enter his presence at any
hour. And besides this, he was to have a seat on the
It may easily be guessed that all this made the
brothers more envious than they were before; and they
cast about in their minds afresh how best they might
destroy him. At length they remembered the goat with
the golden horns and the bells, and they rejoiced; ‘For,’
said they, ‘this time the old woman will be on the watch,
and let him be as clever as he likes, the bells on the
horns are sure to warn her.’ So when, as before, the
king came down to the stables and praised the cleverness
of their brother, the young men told him of that other
marvel possessed by the witch, the goat with the golden
From this moment the king never closed his eyes at
night for longing after this wonderful creature. He
understood something of the danger that there might be
in trying to steal it, now that the witch’s suspicions were
aroused, and he spent hours in making plans for outwitting
her. But somehow he never could think of anything
that would do, and at last, as the brothers had
foreseen, he sent for Pinkel.
‘I hear,’ he said, ‘that the old witch on the island has
a goat with golden horns, from which hang bells that
tinkle the sweetest music. That goat I must have!
But, tell me, how am I to get it? I would give the
third part of my kingdom to anyone that would bring
it to me.’
‘I will fetch it myself,’ answered Pinkel.
This time it was easier for Pinkel to approach the island
unseen, as there was no golden lantern to throw its beams
over the water. But, on the other hand, the goat slept
inside the hut, and would therefore have to be taken from
under the very eyes of the old woman. How was he to
do it? All the way across the lake he thought and thought,
till at length a plan came into his head which seemed
as if it might do, though he knew it would be very difficult
to carry out.
The first thing he did when he reached the shore
was to look about for a piece of wood, and when he had
found it he hid himself close to the hut, till it grew quite
dark and near the hour when the witch and her daughter
went to bed. Then he crept up and fixed the wood
under the door, which opened outwards, in such a
manner that the more you tried to shut it the more
firmly it stuck. And this was what happened when the
girl went as usual to bolt the door and make all fast for
‘What are you doing?’ asked the witch, as her daughter
kept tugging at the handle.
‘There is something the matter with the door; it won’t
shut,’ answered she.
‘Well, leave it alone; there is nobody to hurt us,’ said
the witch, who was very sleepy; and the girl did as
she was bid, and went to bed. Very soon they both
might have been heard snoring, and Pinkel knew that
his time was come. Slipping off his shoes he stole into
the hut on tiptoe, and taking from his pockets some food
of which the goat was particularly fond, he laid it under
his nose. Then, while the animal was eating it, he
stuffed each golden bell with wool which he had also
brought with him, stopping every minute to listen, lest
the witch should awaken, and he should find himself
changed into some dreadful bird or beast. But the
snoring still continued, and he went on with his work as
quickly as he could. When the last bell was done he
drew another handful of food out of his pocket, and held
it out to the goat, which instantly rose to its feet and
followed Pinkel, who backed slowly to the door, and
directly he got outside he seized the goat in his arms
and ran down to the place where he had moored his
As soon as he had reached the middle of the lake, Pinkel
took the wool out of the bells, which began to
tinkle loudly. Their sound awoke the witch, who cried
out as before:
‘Is that you, Pinkel?’
‘Yes, dear mother, it is I,’ said Pinkel.
‘Have you stolen my golden goat?’ asked she.
‘Yes, dear mother, I have,’ answered Pinkel.
‘Are you not a knave, Pinkel?’
‘Yes, dear mother, I am,’ he replied. And the old
witch shouted in a rage:
‘Ah! beware how you come hither again, for next time
you shall not escape me!’
But Pinkel only laughed and rowed on.
The king was so delighted with the goat that he always
kept it by his side, night and day; and, as he had promised,
Pinkel was made ruler over the third part of the
kingdom. As may be supposed, the brothers were more
furious than ever, and grew quite thin with rage.
‘How can we get rid of him?’ said one to the other.
And at length they remembered the golden cloak.
‘He will need to be clever if he is to steal
cried, with a chuckle. And when next the king came
to see his horses they began to speak of Pinkel and his
marvellous cunning, and how he had contrived to steal
the lantern and the goat, which nobody else would have
been able to do.
‘But as he was there, it is a pity he could not have brought
away the golden cloak,’ added they.
‘The golden cloak! what is that?’ asked the king.
And the young men described its beauties in such glowing
words that the king declared he should never know a
day’s happiness till he had wrapped the cloak round his
‘And,’ added he, ‘the man who brings it to me shall
wed my daughter, and shall inherit my throne.’
‘None can get it save Pinkel,’ said they; for they did
not imagine that the witch, after two warnings, could allow
their brother to escape a third time. So Pinkel was sent
for, and with a glad heart he set out.
He passed many hours inventing first one plan and
then another, till he had a scheme ready which he thought
might prove successful.
Thrusting a large bag inside his coat, he pushed off
from the shore, taking care this time to reach the island
in daylight. Having made his boat fast to a tree, he walked
up to the hut, hanging his head, and putting on a face
that was both sorrowful and ashamed.
‘Is that you, Pinkel?’ asked the witch when she saw
him, her eyes gleaming savagely.
‘Yes, dear mother, it is I,’ answered Pinkel.
‘So you have dared, after all you have done, to put
yourself in my power!’ cried she. ‘Well, you sha’n’t
escape me this time!’ And she took down a large knife
and began to sharpen it.
‘Oh! dear mother, spare me!’ shrieked Pinkel, falling
on his knees, and looking wildly about him.
‘Spare you, indeed, you thief! Where are my lantern
and my goat? No! no! there is only one fate for robbers!’
And she brandished the knife in the air so that it glittered
in the firelight.
‘Then, if I must die,’ said Pinkel, who, by this time,
was getting really rather frightened, ‘let me at least choose
the manner of my death. I am very hungry, for
I have had nothing to eat all day. Put some poison, if
you like, into the porridge, but at least let me have a good
meal before I die.’
‘That is not a bad idea,’ answered the woman; ‘as
long as you do die, it is all one to me.’ And ladling out
a large bowl of porridge, she stirred some poisonous herbs
into it, and set about some work that had to be done.
Then Pinkel hastily poured all the contents of the bowl
into his bag, and made a great noise with his spoon, as if
he was scraping up the last morsel.
‘Poisoned or not, the porridge is excellent. I have
eaten it, every scrap; do give me some more,’ said Pinkel,
turning towards her.
‘Well, you have a fine appetite, young man,’ answered
the witch; ‘however, it is the last time you will
ever eat it, so I will give you another bowlful.’ And
rubbing in the poisonous herbs, she poured him out half
of what remained, and then went to the window to call
In an instant Pinkel again emptied the porridge into
the bag, and the next minute he rolled on the floor,
twisting himself about as if in agony, uttering loud
groans the while. Suddenly he grew silent and lay still.
‘Ah! I thought a second dose of that poison would be
too much for you,’ said the witch looking at him. ‘I
warned you what would happen if you came back. I
wish that all thieves were as dead as you! But why
does not my lazy girl bring the wood I sent her for, it
will soon be too dark for her to find her way? I suppose
I must go and search for her. What a trouble girls are!’
And she went to the door to watch if there were any signs
of her daughter. But nothing could be seen of her, and
heavy rain was falling.
‘It is no night for my cloak,’ she muttered; ‘it would
be covered with mud by the time I got back.’ So she
took it off her shoulders and hung it carefully up in a
cupboard in the room. After that she put on her
clogs and started to seek her daughter. Directly the
last sound of the clogs had ceased, Pinkel jumped up
and took down the cloak, and rowed off as fast as he
He had not gone far when a puff of wind unfolded
the cloak, and its brightness shed gleams across the
water. The witch, who was just entering the forest,
turned round at that moment and saw the golden rays.
She forgot all about her daughter, and ran down to the
shore, screaming with rage at being outwitted a third
‘Is that you, Pinkel?’ cried she.
‘Yes, dear mother, it is I.’
‘Have you taken my gold cloak?’
‘Yes, dear mother, I have.’
‘Are you not a great knave?’
‘Yes, truly dear mother, I am.’
And so indeed he was!
But, all the same, he carried the cloak to the king’s
palace, and in return he received the hand of the king’s
daughter in marriage. People said that it was the bride
who ought to have worn the cloak at her wedding feast;
but the king was so pleased with it that he would not part
from it; and to the end of his life was never seen without
it. After his death, Pinkel became king; and let
us hope that he gave up his bad and thievish ways, and
ruled his subjects well. As for his brothers, he did not
punish them, but left them in the stables, where they
grumbled all day long.