Once upon a time there was an honest little fellow named Hans. He had a kind heart and a funny, round, good-humoured face. He lived in a tiny cottage all alone, and every day he worked in his garden. In all the village there was no garden more lovely than his!
Little Hans had made friends, but the most devoted was Big Hugh the Miller. Indeed, the rich Miller was so devoted to little Hans that whenever he passed his garden, he always picked a large bunch of flowers, or if it was the fruit season, he would fill his pockets with plums and cherries.
"True friends must share everything," the Miller used to say, and little Hans would nod and smile and was very proud that he had a friend with such noble ideas. Sometimes, indeed, the neighbours thought it was strange that the rich Miller never gave little Hans anything in return though he had a hundred sacks of flour stored away in his mill, six milk cows, and a large flock of sheep. But Hans never troubled his head about this.
So little Hans worked and worked in his garden. During spring and summer and autumn he was very happy, but when winter came and he had no fruit or flowers to take to the market, he suffered from cold and hunger and often went to bed without any supper. Besides, in winter he was very lonely, because the Miller never came to see him.
"It's no use going to see little Hans in winter," the Miller used to say to his wife. "When people are in trouble we must leave them alone and not bother them! That is my idea of friendship, and I am sure I am right. So I shall wait till spring comes, and then I shall visit him and he will give me a large bunch of spring flowers, and that will make him very happy." "You think so much about others," said his wife, as she sat in her comfortable armchair by the big fire. "It's a pleasure to hear you talk about friendship." "But why don't we ask little Hans to come here?" said the Miller's youngest son. "If poor Hans is in trouble, I will give him half of my porridge!" "What a silly boy you are!" cried the Miller." I really don't know what is the use of sending you to school. You do not lean anything! Why, if little Hans comes here and sees our warm fire, our good supper, and our red wine, he will envy us, and envy is a terrible thing. Besides, if Hans comes here, he will ask me to lend him some flour, and I cannot do that. Flour is one thing, friendship is another, and they should not be confused. The words are spelt differently, and they mean quite different things." "How right you are!" said the Miller's wife. As soon as winter was over and the flowers came out, the Miller went to visit little Hans.
"Good morning, little Hans," said the Miller. "Good morning," said Hans, smiling from ear to ear. "And how have you been all winter?" asked the Miller.
"Well, really," answered Hans, "it's very kind of you to ask. I had a hard time, but now spring has come, and I am quite happy. All my flowers are growing well." "How lovely they are!" exclaimed the Miller.
"Yes, they are very lovely," said Hans, "I am going to sell them in the market and buy back my wheelbarrow with the money." "Buy back your wheelbarrow? Do you mean you sold it? What a stupid thing to do!" "Well, you see, I had a bad time last winter. So I sold everything I could. Finally I sold my wheelbarrow. But I am going to buy everything back again now!" "Hans," said the Miller, "I shall give you my wheelbarrow. It is not in very good condition: one side is gone, and there is something wrong with the wheel. But in spite of that, I shall give it to you." "Well, really, that is very generous of you." said little Hans. "I have a piece of wood in the house and can easily repair it." "A piece of wood!" said the Miller.
"That is just what I want for the roof of my barn. There's a large hole in it, and I must mend it! I'm going to give you my wheelbarrow so you should give me your wood. Of course, the wheelbarrow is worth far more than the wood, but true friendship never notices things like that. Now get it at once, and I will set to work this very day." "Certainly!" cried little Hans, and he ran into his house and brought out the wood.
"Goodbye, little Hans," said the Miller as he went up the hill with the piece of wood on his shoulder and a basket full of flowers in his hand. The next day the Miller came and asked Hans to take a sack of flour to the market and sell it for him. The day after, he asked him to mend his barn roof for him. So little Hans did one thing after another for the Miller, and the Miller said beautiful things about friendship.
One evening little Hans was sitting by the fire when he heard a loud knock at the door. It was a very cold night, and a terrible wind was blowing. He opened the door, and there stood the Miller with a lantern in his hand.
"Dear little Hans," cried the Miller, "my little boy has fallen off ladder and hurt himself! I was going to get the doctor. But he lives so far away, and it is such a bad night that I decided to ask you to go instead. You know I am going to give you my wheelbarrow, and you must do something for me in return." "Certainly!" cried little Hans, "I shall start off at once, but you must lend me your lantern; the night is so dark that I am afraid I will fall into a ditch." "I'm very sorry," answered the Miller, "But it's a new lantern, and I am afraid something may happen to it." "Well, never mind, I shall go without it," said little Hans, and he put on his coat and hat and set off. It was a stormy night. It was so dark that little Hans could hardly see anything, and the wind was so strong that he found it difficult to keep on his feet.
The rain came down harder and harder. Little Hans lost his way. He fell into a deep hole full of water and was drowned. The next day someone found his body and brought it to the cottage.
Everybody went to little Hans' funeral. The Miller walked in front wearing a long black coat. He said, "I was his best friend, so it's only right that I should be the chief mourner!" And every now and then he wiped his eyes with a big handkerchief.