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The Devoted Friend
by Oscar Wilde
Adapted by Marek Vít
One morning, the old Rat put his head out of his hole. Little ducks were swimming in the pond and their mother was trying to teach them to stand on their heads in the water. The little ducks did not pay any attention to her.
“They are such bad children,” the Rat said. “They deserve to be drowned!”
“Nothing of the kind,” the Duck answered. “They are still little and parents must be patient.”
“Oh, I don't know anything about the feelings of parents,” said the Rat. “I am not a family man. I have never been married and I don't ever want to be. Love is fine, but friendship is much better. I know nothing in this world that is higher than devoted friendship.”
“And what should a devoted friend do?” asked a small green Bird sitting in a willow tree, who overheard the conversation.
“Yes, I want to know it, too,” said the Duck.
“What a silly question!” said the Rat. “I would expect a devoted friend to be devoted to me, of course.”
“And what would you do in return?” asked the Bird.
“I do not understand you,” answered the Rat.
“I will tell you a story to explain it,” said the Bird.
“Is the story about me?” asked the Rat. “If it is, I will listen to it. I like fiction very much.”
And the Bird told the story of The Devoted Friend.
Once upon a time, there was an honest little man named Hans. He was very kind and good-humoured. He lived alone in a very small cottage and every day he worked in his garden. It was the most beautiful garden in all the countryside, full of sweet flowers of all kinds. There were always beautiful things to look at and pleasant odours to smell.
Little Hans had many friends but the most devoted friend was the rich Miller. He was so devoted that he always stopped at his garden to pick some flowers or fill his pockets with plums or cherries.
“Real friends should have everything in common,” the Miller always said. Little Hans nodded and smiled. He was very proud of having a friend with such great ideas.
Sometimes the neighbours thought that it was strange that the Miller never gave little Hans anything in return, even though he was very rich. But Hans never thought about these things. What he enjoyed most was listening to all the wonderful things the Miller said about unselfishness and friendship.
So little Hans worked a lot in his garden. In spring, summer, and autumn he was happy. In winter he had no flowers or fruit to bring to the market and he was cold, hungry and lonely. The Miller never went to see him in winter.
“When people are in trouble they should be left alone,” the Miller said to his wife. “They shouldn't be bothered by visitors. That is what I think about friendship and I am sure that I am right. I will wait until spring and then I will visit him. In spring he will be able to give me a large basket of primroses and that will make him very happy.”
“You are very thoughtful about others,” answered his wife. “It is nice to listen to the things you say about friendship. I am sure the priest himself could not say such beautiful things.”
“But could we not invite little Hans to our house?” asked the Miller's youngest son. “If he is in trouble, I could give him half of my supper and show him my white rabbits.”
“You are a very silly boy! Don't you learn anything at school? If little Hans came here and saw our warm fire and our food and our wine, he would get envious. And envy is a terrible thing. And if he came to our house, he might ask me for a bag of flour. Friendship is one thing but flour is another.” His son felt very ashamed and started to cry.
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.”
So the Miller went down the hill with the basket on his arm.
“Good morning, little Hans,” said the Miller.
“Good morning,” said Hans smiling from ear to ear.
“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.”
“Yes, they are very lovely,” said Hans. “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 with the money.”
“Your wheelbarrow? Don't tell me that you have sold it. It is a very stupid thing to do!”
“Well, I had to sell it,” Hans answered. “The winter was a very bad time for me and I had no money. I couldn't even buy bread. So I sold my silver buttons, my pipe, and even my wheelbarrow. But now I am going to buy it all back again.”
“Hans,” said the Miller. “I will give you my wheelbarrow. It is not in a very good condition. One side is gone and there is something wrong with the wheel. But I will give it to you, because I am very generous. People will say that I am very foolish, but I am different. I think that being generous is the most important thing about friendship. Besides, I have a new wheelbarrow for myself.”
“Really, you are very generous,” said little Hans and he was very happy. “I can easily repair it, because I have a plank of wood in the house.”
“A plank of wood!” said the Miller. “That's just what I need for the roof of my barn. There is a very large hole in it. I am very lucky that you said it. I have given you my wheelbarrow and now you are going to give me your plank. Of course, a wheelbarrow costs much more that a plank of wood, but true friendship never notices things like that. Give me the plank and I will mend the roof of the barn today.”
“Certainly,” cried little Hans, and brought the plank out of his house.
“It is not a very big plank,” said the Miller when he looked at it. “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.”
“Full?” asked little Hans sadly. It was a very big basket and he wanted to sell the flowers and buy back his silver buttons.
“Well, I have given you my wheelbarrow,” said the Miller. “A few flowers is not so much to ask in return. I thought that there is no selfishness in true friendship. But maybe I was wrong.”
“My dear friend, my best friend,” cried little Hans. “You can have all the flowers in my garden! You are more important to me than my silver buttons,” he said, picked all his pretty primroses and filled the Miller's basket.
“Goodbye, little Hans,” said the Miller and went up the hill with the plank on his shoulder, and the big basket in his hand.
“Goodbye,” said little Hans. He began to work happily because he was so pleased about the wheelbarrow.
The next day he was working again when he heard the Miller's voice calling to him from the road. He ran to the wall and saw the Miller with a large bag of flour on his back.
“Dear little Hans,” said the Miller. "Could you carry this bag of flour for me to the market?'
“Oh, I am so sorry,” said Hans, “but I am really very busy today.”
“Well, I think it is very unfriendly of you,” said the Miller. “After all, I have given you my wheelbarrow.”
“Oh, don't say that,” cried little Hans. “I never want to be unfriendly!” he said, took the bag on his back and went to the market.
"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.
“It has certainly been a hard day,” said little Hans to himself when he was going to bed. “I am glad I did not refuse the Miller. He is my best friend, and he is going to give me his wheelbarrow.”
"Early the next morning the Miller came down to get the money for his bag of flour, but little Hans was so tired that he was still in bed.
“You are very lazy,” said the Miller, "I am going to give you my wheelbarrow so you should work harder. Being lazy is a sin. I hope you don't mind that I speak so openly with you. Friends should say what they really mean. Anybody can say nice words but a true friend can say unpleasant things, because he knows that they are good.
“I am very sorry,” said little Hans. “I was so tired that wanted to lie in bed for a little time and listen to the birds singing. Do you know that I always work better after I hear the birds sing?”
“I am glad of that,” said the Miller, “because I want you to come up to the mill and mend the roof of my 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.
“Do you think it would be unfriendly if I said that I was busy?” he asked in a shy and quiet voice.
“Well,” answered the Miller, “I do not think it is much to ask of you. After all I am going to give you my wheelbarrow. But of course if you refuse, I will go and do it myself.”
“Oh! Of course not,” cried little Hans and he jumped out of bed. He dressed himself and went up to the barn.
He worked there all day and at sunset the Miller came to see how he was getting on.
“Have you mended the hole in the roof yet, little Hans?” cried the Miller happily.
“Yes, it is quite mended,” answered little Hans and came down the ladder.
“Ah!” said the Miller. “No work makes you so happy as the work you do for others.”
“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 to get there and back. When he returned, he was so tired that he went off to sleep in his chair. He did not wake up till it was daylight.
"Today I will have a lovely day in my garden,' he said, and went to work.
But 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.
“It is just a poor traveller,” said little Hans to himself, and he ran to the door.
There stood the Miller with a light in one hand and a big stick in the other.
“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.”
“Certainly,” cried little Hans, “I am happy that you came to me and I will start off at once. But you must lend me your light, because the night is so dark that I am afraid I might fall somewhere.”
“I am very sorry,” answered the Miller, “but it is my new light. Something could happen to it.”
“Well, never mind,” cried little Hans. He 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, and knocked at the door.
“Who is there?” cried the Doctor.
“Little Hans, Doctor.”
“What do you want, little Hans?”
“The Miller's son has fallen from a ladder, and has hurt himself, and the Miller wants you to come at once.”
“All right!” said the Doctor. He 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. It was a very dangerous place, because it was full of deep holes. Poor little Hans fell into a hole and drowned. His body was found the next day and brought back to the cottage.
Everybody went to little Hans' 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.
“Little Hans is certainly a great loss to everyone,” said the Blacksmith when the funeral was over, and they were all sitting comfortably in the inn, drinking wine and eating sweet cakes.
“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.”
“Well?” said the Rat, after a long pause.
“Well, that is the end,” said the little Bird.
“But what happened to the Miller?” asked the Rat.
“Oh! I really don't know,” replied the Bird. “And I am sure that I don't care.”
“I see that you have no sympathy,” said the Rat.
“I am afraid you don't understand the moral of the story,” said the Bird.
“The what?” screamed the Rat.
“Do you mean to say that the story has a moral?”
“Certainly,” said the Bird.
The Rat went back into his hole, angrily.
“And how do you like the Rat?” asked the Duck who came up a few minutes later.
“I am afraid that I have made him angry,” answered the Bird. “In fact, I told him a story with a moral.”
“Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do,” said the Duck.
And I completely agree with her.
Original written by Oscar Wilde (public domain)
Adapted by Marek Vít, © 2006
Recorded by Laurie Bram © 2006
Illustration by Petr Levinský © 2006
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