The Magic Fiddle
A FARMER once had a servant who worked for him three years without being paid any wages. The servant did his work well and faithfully, and was the first of the farmer's help to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed at night. If there was any hard work to be done which no one else would do he was always ready to undertake it. He never made any complaint, and never failed to be good-natured and contented. But at last it came into the man's head that he would not continue without pay any longer. So he went to his master and said, "I have worked hard for you a long time, and now I think I should have some money for my labor."
The farmer was miserly and not altogether honest, and as he knew that his man was very simple-hearted he took out his purse and gave him threepence. "There is a penny," said he, "for each year you have served me."
The servant thought threepence was a great deal of money to have, and he said to himself, "Why should I work here any longer? I can now travel into the wide world and make myself merry."
Then, with his money jingling in his pocket, he set out roaming over hill and valley. As he tramped singing along the road a little dwarf hopped out of a wayside bush and asked, "What makes you so happy, sir?"
"Why! what should make me downhearted?" said the man. "I am sound in health and rich in purse. I have saved up the pay for three years' work and have it all safe in my pocket."
"How much may that come to?" inquired the dwarf.
"Full threepence," replied the servant.
"Listen," said the dwarf. "I wish you would give the threepence to me. I am very poor."
When the man heard this he was so sorry for the dwarf that he gave him the threepence; and the little dwarf said, "As you have been so kind to me I will grant any wish that you may care to make; so choose whatever you like."
"Aha!" said the servant. "You are a wonder-worker, I see," and, greatly rejoiced at his good luck, he paused to think what he most wanted. "I like many things better than money," said he. "Now if you could give me a fiddle that would set every one dancing who hears me play on it, that would please me more than anything else I can think of."
"All right," said the dwarf, "you can have what you ask for;" and out of a bag he carried he pulled a fiddle and bow and handed them to his companion.
"Heart alive! what more can one desire?" said the servant.
Then the dwarf went his way and the hired man walked on singing as before. But he had not gone far when an old man called to him from a roadside field. The old man had an ax in his hands and was standing under a great oak-tree that he had begun to cut down. "This work is too hard for me," said the old man. "But a stout fellow like you would make nothing of it, and if you will finish chopping through this tree-trunk I will pay you five shillings."
"Give me the ax," said the servant. "I am quite willing to earn a little money, for mine is all gone;" and he threw off his coat and went to work.
By and by the oak crashed to the ground. "There," said the servant, "now I'll take my five shillings and be stepping along."
"I did not think you could do the work so soon or I would not have offered you so much," said the old man.
"Well, that is no fault of mine," the servant replied.
"But five shillings is more than the work is worth," argued the old man. "Here, I will give you three shillings, and that is a great plenty."
"No, I will take nothing less than what you agreed to give me in the first place," the servant declared.
"Then you will not get anything," said the other.
"We will see about that," was the servant's response, and he took up his fiddle and began playing, and the old man began to dance.
"How is this?" the old man cried. "Is that fiddle enchanted?"
"Yes," said the servant.
"Then for heaven's sake, my good fellow, play no more!" shouted the old man. "I don't want to dance. My bones are too stiff for me to be springing about like this. Master, master! do let the fiddle alone."
"You don't like dancing, eh?" laughed the servant. "Well, it is good enough for you after treating me so meanly;" and he played away more briskly than ever.
"Have pity, have pity!" begged the old man, "and I will give you your money."
So the servant stopped fiddling. Then the old man handed over the five shillings; but he was so angry that as soon as he had rubbed his aching joints he hurried to the town, muttering as he went, "The miserable fiddler! Just wait—I will get even with him."
As soon as he reached the town he complained to the constables that he had been robbed. "You will know the rascal who robbed me easily enough," said the old man; "for he is always singing, and he carries a violin under his arm."
The constables set off at once in search of the rogue, and presently they caught him and brought him before the court to be tried.
"That is he," said the old man, "that is the very fellow who stole my five shillings."
"No," said the servant. "I did not steal. You gave me the money for playing a tune to you on my fiddle."
"What!" exclaimed the judge, "five shillings for a tune on a fiddle! That's not at all likely. I fear you are a liar as well as a thief."
"I speak the truth," said the servant.
"Heaven defend us!" screamed the old man. "His lies are as thick as flies on the wall. He stole my money, and you can't believe a word he says."
"Prisoner," said the judge, "you deserve hanging."
Then the judge turned to the officers and said, "Take the five shillings from him and give them to the old man; and after that you may conduct the culprit to the gallows."
So the officers took away the servant's money and marched him off to the gallows, while the old man cried after him, "You vagabond! You dog of a fiddler! Now you will get your just deserts."
A crowd followed the culprit to the place of execution, and the officers were about to put the rope around his neck when he said to the judge, "My lord, grant me one last request."
"What is it?" asked the judge.
"Only this," replied the servant—"that I may play on my fiddle once more."
"Very well," replied the judge, "play away."
"Oh, no, no!" shouted the old man, "for mercy's sake don't let him play his fiddle."
But the judge said, "It is only for this once; he will soon have done."
"Then bind me fast, oh, bind me fast before he begins," cried the old man.
The servant wasted no time in starting a tune, and at the first scrape all the people began to wag their heads—his accuser and the judge, the officers, the jailer, the hangman, and every one else who was within hearing. They could not help themselves.
At the second scrape they all lifted their legs and the hangman let go his hold of the honest servant to make ready to dance.
At the third scrape they one and all leaped into the air, and began to caper about—old and young, fat and lean, danced as hard as they could. Even the dogs got up on their hind legs and pranced about with the rest. The dancing was merry and pleasant enough at first, but when it had gone on for a while and there seemed to be no end to the playing or leaping, the people began to cry out for the servant to stop fiddling. But that he would not do till the judge had promised he should not be hanged, and the old man had given back to him his five shillings.
So the judge promised and the old man handed over the money. Then the servant tucked the fiddle under his arm and started off again on his travels, and the people who had been dancing around the gallows heard him singing as he walked down the street out of the town.