The Arch Rogue
There once lived, years ago, a man known only by the name of the Arch Rogue. By dint of skill in the black art, and all arts of imposition, he drove a more flourishing trade than all the rest of the sorcerers of the age. It was his delight to travel from one country to another merely to play upon mankind, and no living soul was secure, either in house or field, nor could properly call them his own.
Now his great reputation for these speedy methods of possessing himself of others' property excited the envy of a certain king of a certain country, who considered them as no less than an invasion of his royal prerogative. He could not sleep a wink for thinking about it, and he despatched troops of soldiers, one after another, with strict orders to arrest him, but all their search was in vain. At length, after long meditation, the king said to himself—
"Only wait a little, thou villain cutpurse, and yet I will have thee."
Forthwith he issued a manifesto, stating that the royal mercy would be extended to so light-fingered a genius, upon condition that he consented to appear at court and give specimens of his dexterity for his majesty's amusement.
One afternoon, as the king was standing at his palace window enjoying the fine prospect of woods and dales, over which a tempest appeared to be then just gathering, some one suddenly clapped him upon the shoulder, and on looking round he discovered a very tall, stout, dark-whiskered man close behind him, who said—
"Here I am."
"Who are you?" inquired the king.
"He whom you look for."
The king uttered an exclamation of surprise, not unmixed with fear, at such amazing assurance. The stranger continued, "Don't be alarmed. Only keep your word with me, and I will prove myself quite obedient to your orders."
This being agreed on, the king acquainted his royal consort and the whole court that the great sleight-of-hand genius had discovered himself, and soon, in a full assembly, his majesty proceeded to question him, and lay on him his commands.
"Mark what I say," he said, "nor venture to dispute my orders. To begin, do you see yon rustic, not far from the wood, busy ploughing?"
The conjurer nodded assent.
"Then go," continued the king,—"go and rob him of his plough and oxen without his knowing anything about it."
The king flattered himself that this was impossible, for he did not conceive how the conjurer could perform such a task in the face of open day,—and if he fail, thought he, I have him in my power, and will make him smart.
The conjurer proceeded to the spot, and as the storm appeared to increase, the rain beginning to pour down in torrents, the countryman, letting his oxen rest, ran under a tree for shelter, until the rain should have ceased. Just then he heard some one singing in the wood. Such a glorious song he had never heard before in all his life. He felt wonderfully enlivened, and, as the weather continued dull, he said to himself—
"Well, there's no harm in taking a look. Yes; I'll see what sport is stirring," and away he slipped into the wood, still further and further, in search of the songster.
In the meanwhile the conjurer was not idle. He changed places with the rustic, taking care of the oxen while their master went searching through the wood. Darting out of the thicket, in a few moments he had slashed off the oxen's horns and tails, and stuck them, half hid, in the ploughman's last furrow. He then drove off the beasts pretty sharply towards the palace. In a short time the rustic found his way back, and looking towards the spot for his oxen could see nothing of them.