The king was furious when he opened the little wooden box and found only a dry plum pit rattling around inside. “Why, this is just an ordinary plum pit” he exclaimed, “Is this some kind of a joke? Who do you think you are, to waste my time with this foolishness!” The king angrily ordered the jailer to take the old thief back to his gloomy cell.
“Wait,” said the old thief. “It’s true that this is a plum pit, but it is not just an ordinary plum pit. When this plum pit is planted a sapling will spring up in just a few days and quickly grow into a tree, and in just a few days more flowers and then fruit will appear and these will be plums of gold. Whoever plants this tree will reap a golden reward and be wealthy all of his days. Surely this is a gift fit for a king.”
The king thought about this for a moment. “If what you say is true," he said to the old thief, “and this seed is magical and produces plums of gold, then why haven’t you planted the pit yourself?” “Well,” said the old thief, “the tree will only sprout if the one who plants it has a clear conscience and has never stolen or cheated another. Clearly I do not qualify but surely you do, my king.”
The king thought about the deals that were made in the back rooms of the castle. “I’ve never had a green thumb,” he said, and turning to the queen handed the pit to her. “You plant this my dear.” The queen thought about her secret liaisons and private plots and she turned to the prime minister who stood beside her and handed the pit to him. “You deserve this reward far more than I,” she told him. The Prime Minister took the pit and promptly handed it to the Treasurer. “I do believe that you are better suited for this task,” he said.
The Treasurer gave a slight smile (or perhaps it was a grimace) and handed the plum pit to the Minister of War, who handed it to the Chief Jailer, who handed it to the Minister of Justice, and so it went until the plum pit passed through every hand and ended up again, with the old thief. “Apparently there is no one here qualified to plant this plum tree,” he said, “although I am the only one in jail.”
The room was very quiet. At last the king said, “You have given us a gift today, a gift for the entire realm.” He called the ministers together and they all pitched in to pay the old thief’s fine.
The old thief carefully placed the plum pit back into the old wooden box, shut the lid, and placed it in the folds of his robe. “Can that pit really produce golden fruit?” the king asked him. The old thief smiled and walked away a free man.