One morning, an old Water-rat and a Duck were discussing the importance of teaching their children to stand on their heads in water. A Green Linnet, who overheard their conversation, asked the Water-rat about his idea of a devoted friend.
The Water-rat replied that he expected his devoted friend to be devoted to him, of course. The Linnet then told them a story about a devoted friendship between a kind-hearted man named Hans and a rich Miller.
Hans had a beautiful garden and the Miller, claiming to be his best friend, would often take flowers and fruits from it. The Miller never gave Hans anything in return, but Hans didn't mind as he believed in the Miller's idea of unselfish friendship.
I know of nothing in the world that is either nobler or rarer than a devoted friendship.
During winter, Hans struggled with hunger and cold, but the Miller didn't visit him, saying that people in trouble should be left alone.
When spring arrived, the Miller visited Hans and offered him his old, broken wheelbarrow in exchange for Hans' help in various tasks. Hans agreed, thinking it was a generous offer.
I think that generosity is the essence of friendship, and, besides, I have got a new wheelbarrow for myself.
However, the Miller kept asking for more favors, leaving Hans with no time to tend to his own garden. Despite this, Hans continued to help the Miller, believing in the value of their friendship.
One stormy night, the Miller asked Hans to fetch a doctor for his injured son. Hans agreed, but got lost in the storm and drowned in a deep hole on the moor. The Miller attended Hans' funeral as the chief mourner, but later complained about the loss of his wheelbarrow, saying that he would never be generous again.
The Water-rat, upon hearing the story, was annoyed that it had a moral and went back into his hole, while the Duck agreed that telling stories with morals could be dangerous.