The Lilac Fairy Book
The Shifty Lad
In the land of Erin there dwelt long ago a widow who had an only son. He was a clever
boy, so she saved up enough money to send him to school, and, as soon as he was old
enough, to apprentice him to any trade that he would choose. But when the time came, he
said he would not be bound to any trade, and that he meant to be a thief.
Now his mother was very sorrowful when she heard of this, but she knew quite well that
if she tried to stop his having his own way he would only grow more determined to get it.
So all the answer she made was that the end of thieves was hanging at the bridge of
Dublin, and then she left him alone, hoping that when he was older he might become
One day she was going to church to hear a sermon from a great preacher, and she begged
the Shifty Lad, as the neighbours called him from the tricks he played, to come with her.
But he only laughed and declared that he did not like sermons, adding:
'However, I will promise you this, that the first trade you hear named after you come out
from church shall be my trade for the rest of my life.'
These words gave a little comfort to the poor woman, and her heart was lighter than
before as she bade him farewell.
When the Shifty Lad thought that the hour had nearly come for the sermon to be over, he
hid himself in some bushes in a little path that led straight to his mother's house, and, as
she passed along, thinking of all the good things she had heard, a voice shouted close to
her ear 'Robbery! Robbery! Robbery!' The suddenness of it made her jump. The naughty
boy had managed to change his voice, so that she did not know it for his, and he had
concealed himself so well that, though she peered about all round her, she could see no
one. As soon as she had turned the corner the Shifty Lad came out, and by running very
fast through the wood he contrived to reach home before his mother, who found him
stretched out comfortably before the fire.
'Well, have you got any news to tell me?' asked he.
'No, nothing; for I left the church at once, and did not stop to speak to anyone.'
'Oh, then no one has mentioned a trade to you?' he said in tones of disappointment.
'Ye--es,' she replied slowly. 'At least, as I walked down the path a voice cried out
"Robbery! Robbery! Robbery!" but that was all.'
'And quite enough too,' answered the boy. 'What did I tell you? That is going to be my
'Then your end will be hanging at the bridge of Dublin,' said she. But there was no sleep
for her that night, for she lay in the dark thinking about her son.