Don’t we remember these pictures from our childhood of the thief on the step ladder with a pot of jam in his hand, looking guiltily round at the door. I remember one when I was very tiny, catching an older brother among the jams and cakes and pies. I suppose I must have threatened to “tell” for my next recollection is of his arm round my neck — for the first and last time in our lives —- and his coaxing voice and his other hand emptying the contents of his pocket for my choice of a bribe to sell.
All sorts of strange things came to light — a catapult, a marble glassie of brilliant hues which rather took my fancy. A broken knife, a shell, a nail or two but, alas, not a halfpenny. No doubt he would gladly promise next Saturday’s half penny but memory vanishes at this point and their remains with me only the picture of the fair tousled head, the pocket full of boyish treasures and the sound of the coaxing voice.
My experience of this generation of children is that they are not tempted to raid their mother’s cake cupboard, because they will yield more choice on the tea table and the forbidden shelf is, well, not forbidden.
The greedy boy of the moral tale provides enough tasted cakes or sweet meats for weeks on end. When a guilty opportunity came, the temptation would be too great for his honesty if he were tempted to steal. So the real moral of these old tales is not that the boys were wickedly greedy but that their ordinary fare was too plain.