The Devoted Friend
Little Hans had a great many friends, but the most devoted friend of all was big Hugh the Miller. Indeed, so devoted was the rich Miller to little Hans, that he would never go by his garden without leaning over the wall and plucking a large nosegay, or a handful of sweet herbs, or filling his pockets with plums and cherries if it was the fruit season.
“Real friends should have everything in common,” the Miller used to say, and little Hans nodded and smiled, and felt very proud of having a friend with such noble ideas.
Sometimes, the neighbours thought it strange that the rich Miller never gave little Hans anything in return. But Hans never troubled his head about these things, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to all the wonderful things the Miller used to say about the true friendship.
So little Hans worked away in his garden. During the spring, the summer, and the autumn he was very happy, but when the winter came, and he had no fruit or flowers to bring to the market, he suffered a good deal from cold and hunger, and often had to go to bed without any supper. In the winter, also, the Miller never came to see him then.
“There is no good in my going to see little Hans as long as the snow lasts,” the Miller used to say to his wife, “for when people are in trouble they should be left alone, and not be bothered by visitors. That at least is my idea about friendship, and I am sure I am right. So I shall wait till the spring comes, and then I’ll visit him, and he will be able to give me a large basket of primroses and that will make him so happy.
“You are certainly very thoughtful about others,” answered the Wife, as she sat in her comfortable armchair by the big pinewood fire; “very thoughtful indeed. It is quite a treat to hear you talk about friendship.”
“But could we not ask little Hans up here?” said the Miller’s youngest son. «If poor Hans is in trouble I will give him half my porridge, and show him my white rabbits.”
«What a silly boy you are»! cried the Miller; «I really don’t know what is the use of sending you to school. You seem not to learn anything. Why, if little Hans came up here, and saw our warm fire, and our good supper, and our great cask of red wine, he might get envious, and envy is a most terrible thing, and would spoil anybody’s nature. Besides, if Hans came here, he might ask me to let him have some flour on credit, and that I could not do. Flour is one thing, and friendship is another, and they should not be confused. Why, the words are spelt differently, and mean quite different things. Everybody can see that.”
“How well you talk”! said the Miller’s Wife, pouring herself out a large glass of warm ale; really I feel quite drowsy. It is just like being in church.”
“Lots of people act well,” answered the Miller; “but very few people talk well, which shows that talking is much the more difficult thing of the two, and much the finer thing also”;
As soon as the winter was over and the primroses started to open, the Miller said to his wife that he would go and see little Hans.
“Oh, you have such a good heart!” cried his wife. “You always think of others. Don’t forget to take the big basket for the flowers.”
Hans was very happy to see his friend.
"How have you been all winter?" said the Miller.
"It is very nice of you to ask," cried Hans. "The winter was really hard for me, but now the spring has come and I am very happy. All my flowers are doing well."
"We often talked about you during the winter, Hans," said the Miller.
"That was kind of you," said Hans. "I was afraid that you had forgotten me."
"Hans, I am surprised by what you say," said the Miller. "Friendship never forgets, that is the wonderful thing about it. By the way, your primroses are looking very lovely."
"It is very lucky for me that I have so many. I am going to bring them to the market and sell them. Then I will buy back my wheelbarrow, silver buttons, my pipe with the money. The winter was very hard for me.
"I will give you my wheelbarrow. It is not in a very good condition. But I will give it to you, because I am very generous.
"Really, I can easily repair it, because I have a plank of wood in the house."
“That’s just what I need for the roof of my barn.”
"It is not a very big plank, I am afraid that after I have mended the roof, there will be nothing left for mending the wheelbarrow. But it is not my fault. And because I have given you my wheelbarrow, I am sure you would like to give me some flowers in return. Here is the basket, and make it full."
Hans was very sad. It was a very big basket and he wanted to sell the flowers and buy back his silver buttons.
But his friendship was more important than silver buttons. So he picked all his pretty primroses and filled the Miller’s basket.
The next day Miller asked him to go to the market and sell a big bag of flour for his friend.
It was a very hot day and Hans was very tired. He got to the market, waited there for some time and sold the bag of flour for a very good price. Then he returned home.
Then he asked him to mend the roof of his barn. Poor little Hans was very anxious to go and work in his garden, because his flowers had not been watered for two days, but he did not want to refuse the Miller. He was such a good friend to him.
“You say such wonderful things,” said little Hans. “Do you think I will ever have such nice ideas as you have?”
"Of course," answered the Miller. "But now go home and rest. I want you to take my sheep to the mountain tomorrow."
Poor little Hans was afraid to say anything to this. Early the next day he went with the sheep to the mountain. It took him the whole day and he was so tired that he went off to sleep in his chair.
He was never able to look after his flowers. His friend always came round and gave him some work to do. Hans was sometimes very unhappy, but he always said to himself that the Miller was his best friend, and he was going to give him his wheelbarrow.
So little Hans worked for the Miller, and the Miller said all kinds of beautiful things about friendship. Little Hans wrote them down in his notebook and read them every night.
One evening little Hans was sitting by his fireplace when somebody knocked loudly at the door. It was a stormy night and Hans first thought that it was only the wind. But someone knocked again, even more loudly.
"Dear little Hans," cried the Miller, "I am in great trouble. My little boy has fallen off a ladder and hurt himself, and I am going for the Doctor. But he lives so far away, and it is such a bad night that I thought it would be much better if you went instead of me. You know I am going to give you my wheelbarrow, and it is fair that you should do something for me in return."
Hans put on a heavy coat and started off.
What a terrible storm it was! The night was black and the wind was very strong. After about three hours he arrived at the Doctor’s house. The Doctor ordered his horse, his big boots, and his light, and came downstairs. He rode off towards the Miller’s house and little Hans ran behind him. But the storm was getting worse and worse, and the rain fell heavily. Little Hans could not see where he was going. At last he lost his way and came to the moor. Poor little Hans fell into a hole and drowned.
Everybody went to little Han’s funeral, because he was so popular.
"Because I was his best friend," said the Miller, "I should have the best place." So he walked at the front of the people in a long black cloak.
"A great loss to me," answered the Miller. "I had given him my wheelbarrow, and now I really don’t know what to do with it. It is in such bad condition that I could not get anything for it if I sold it. I will certainly never give away anything again. That’s what I get for being too generous."