There was once a rich man, who had a servant who served him diligently and honestly: He was every morning the first out of bed, and the last to go to rest at night; and, whenever there was a difficult job to be done, which nobody cared to undertake, he was always the first to set himself to it. Moreover, he never complained, but was contented with everything, and always merry.
When a year was ended, his master gave him no wages, for he said to himself, "That is the cleverest way; for I shall save something, and he will not go away, but stay quietly in my service. The servant said nothing, but did his work the second year as he had done it the first; and when at the end of this, likewise, he received no wages, he made himself happy, and still stayed on.
When the third year also was past, the master considered, put his hand in his pocket, but pulled nothing out. Then at last the servant said, "Master, for three years I have served you honestly, be so good as to give me what I ought to have, for I wish to leave, and look about me a little more in the world."
"Yes, my good fellow," answered the old miser; "you have served me industriously, and, therefore, you shall be cheerfully rewarded;" And he put his hand into his pocket, but counted out only three farthings, saying, "There, you have a farthing for each year; that is large and liberal pay, such as you would have received from few masters."
The honest servant, who understood little about money, put his fortune into his pocket, and thought, "Ah! now that I have my purse full, why need I trouble and plague myself any longer with hard work!" So on he went, up hill and down dale; and sang and jumped to his heart's content. Now it came to pass that as he was going by a thicket a little man stepped out, and called to him, "Whither away, merry brother? I see you do not carry many cares." - "Why should I be sad?" answered the servant; "I have enough; three years' wages are jingling in my pocket." - "How much is your treasure?" the dwarf asked him. "How much? Three farthings sterling, all told." - "Look here," said the dwarf, "I am a poor needy man, give me your three farthings; I can work no longer, but you are young, and can easily earn your bread."
And as the servant had a good heart, and felt pity for the old man, he gave him the three farthings, saying, "Take them in the name of Heaven, I shall not be any the worse for it."
Then the little man said, "As I see you have a good heart I grant you three wishes, one for each farthing, they shall all be fulfilled."
"Aha?" said the servant, "you are one of those who can work wonders! Well, then, if it is to be so, I wish, first, for a gun, which shall hit everything that I aim at; secondly, for a fiddle, which when I play on it, shall compel all who hear it to dance; thirdly, that if I ask a favor of any one he shall not be able to refuse it."
"All that shall you have," said the dwarf; and put his hand into the bush, and only think, there lay a fiddle and gun, all ready, just as if they had been ordered. These he gave to the servant, and then said to him, "Whatever you may ask at any time, no man in the world shall be able to deny you."
"Heart alive! What can one desire more?" said the servant to himself, and went merrily onwards. Soon afterwards he met a Jew with a long goat's-beard, who was standing listening to the song of a bird which was sitting up at the top of a tree. "Good heavens," he was exclaiming, "that such a small creature should have such a fearfully loud voice! If it were but mine! If only someone would sprinkle some salt upon its tail!"
"If that is all," said the servant, "the bird shall soon be down here;" And taking aim he pulled the trigger, and down fell the bird into the thorn-bushes. "Go, you rogue," he said to the Jew, "and fetch the bird out for yourself!"
"Oh!" said the Jew, "leave out the rogue, my master, and I will do it at once. I will get the bird out for myself, as you really have hit it." Then he lay down on the ground, and began to crawl into the thicket.
When he was fast among the thorns, the good servant's humor so tempted him that he took up his fiddle and began to play. In a moment the Jew's legs began to move, and to jump into the air, and the more the servant fiddled the better went the dance. But the thorns tore his shabby coat from him, combed his beard, and pricked and plucked him all over the body. "Oh dear," cried the Jew, "what do I want with your fiddling? Leave the fiddle alone, master; I do not want to dance."
But the servant did not listen to him, and thought, "You have fleeced people often enough, now the thorn-bushes shall do the same to you;" and he began to play over again, so that the Jew had to jump higher than ever, and scraps of his coat were left hanging on the thorns. "Oh, woe's me! cried the Jew; I will give the gentleman whatsoever he asks if only he leaves off fiddling a purse full of gold." - "If you are so liberal," said the servant, "I will stop my music; but this I must say to your credit, that you dance to it so well that it is quite an art;" and having taken the purse he went his way.
The Jew stood still and watched the servant quietly until he was far off and out of sight, and then he screamed out with all his might, "You miserable musician, you beer-house fiddler! wait till I catch you alone, I will hunt you till the soles of your shoes fall off! You ragamuffin! just put five farthings in your mouth, and then you may be worth three halfpence!" and went on abusing him as fast as he could speak. As soon as he had refreshed himself a little in this way, and got his breath again, he ran into the town to the justice.
"My lord judge," he said, "I have come to make a complaint; see how a rascal has robbed and ill-treated me on the public highway! a stone on the ground might pity me; my clothes all torn, my body pricked and scratched, my little all gone with my purse, good ducats, each piece better than the last; for God's sake let the man be thrown into prison!"
"Was it a soldier," said the judge, "who cut you thus with his sabre?" - "Nothing of the sort!" said the Jew; "it was no sword that he had, but a gun hanging at his back, and a fiddle at his neck; the wretch may easily be known."
So the judge sent his people out after the man, and they found the good servant, who had been going quite slowly along, and they found, too, the purse with the money upon him. As soon as he was taken before the judge he said, "I did not touch the Jew, nor take his money; he gave it to me of his own free will, that I might leave off fiddling because he could not bear my music." - "Heaven defend us!" cried the Jew, "his lies are as thick as flies upon the wall."
But the judge also did not believe his tale, and said, "This is a bad defence, no Jew would do that." And because he had committed robbery on the public highway, he sentenced the good servant to be hanged. As he was being led away the Jew again screamed after him, "You vagabond! you dog of a fiddler! now you are going to receive your well-earned reward!" The servant walked quietly with the hangman up the ladder, but upon the last step he turned round and said to the judge, "Grant me just one request before I die."
"Yes, if you do not ask your life," said the judge. "I do not ask for life," answered the servant, "but as a last favor let me play once more upon my fiddle." The Jew raised a great cry of "Murder! murder! for goodness' sake do not allow it! Do not allow it!" But the judge said, "Why should I not let him have this short pleasure? it has been granted to him, and he shall have it." However, he could not have refused on account of the gift which had been bestowed on the servant.
Then the Jew cried, "Oh! woe's me! tie me, tie me fast!" while the good servant took his fiddle from his neck, and made ready. As he gave the first scrape, they all began to quiver and shake, the judge, his clerk, and the hangman and his men, and the cord fell out of the hand of the one who was going to tie the Jew fast. At the second scrape all raised their legs, and the hangman let go his hold of the good servant, and made himself ready to dance. At the third scrape they all leaped up and began to dance; the judge and the Jew being the best at jumping. Soon all who had gathered in the market-place out of curiosity were dancing with them; old and young, fat and lean, one with another. The dogs, likewise, which had run there got up on their hind legs and capered about; and the longer he played, the higher sprang the dancers, so that they knocked against each other's heads, and began to shriek terribly.
At length the judge cried, quite of breath, "I will give you your life if you will only stop fiddling." The good servant thereupon had compassion, took his fiddle and hung it round his neck again, and stepped down the ladder. Then he went up to the Jew, who was lying upon the ground panting for breath, and said, "You rascal, now confess, whence you got the money, or I will take my fiddle and begin to play again." - "I stole it, I stole it! cried he; "but you have honestly earned it." So the judge had the Jew taken to the gallows and hanged as a thief.
Un contadino aveva un servo fedele e zelante, al suo servizio già da tre anni senza che egli gli avesse mai dato il suo salario. Finalmente il servo pensò che non intendeva lavorare per niente, andò dal padrone e disse: -Vi ho servito tutto questo tempo con solerzia e lealtà, perciò confido in voi perché‚ mi diate ciò che mi spetta di diritto-. Ma il contadino era uno spilorcio, e sapeva che il servo era d'animo semplice; così prese tre centesimi e gliene diede uno per anno: questa era la sua paga. Il servo pensava di avere in mano un grosso capitale e pensò: "Perché‚ vorresti ancora crucciarti; adesso puoi aver cura di te e andare in giro per il mondo a fartela bene." Così mise il suo bel capitale in uno zaino e se ne andò allegramente per monti e valli. Una volta giunse in un campo saltando e cantando e gli apparve un ometto che gli domandò la causa della sua gioia. -Perché‚ mai dovrei essere triste? Ho salute e denaro in abbondanza, non ho certo bisogno di preoccuparmi. Ho con me tutto ciò che ho guadagnato e risparmiato prestando servizio per tre anni.- -A quanto ammonta il tuo tesoro?- chiese l'omino. -Tre bei centesimi- rispose il servo. -Regalami i tuoi tre centesimi: sono un pover'uomo.- Il servo aveva buon cuore e provò compassione per l'omino, così gli diede i soldi. L'omino disse: -Dato che il tuo cuore è buono, ti concedo tre desideri, uno per centesimo: avrai quel che desideri-. Il servo ne fu soddisfatto e pensò che preferiva della roba al denaro; poi disse: -Per prima cosa desidero un archibugio che colpisca tutto quello che prendo di mira; in secondo luogo un violino, e quando suono tutti quelli che sentono devono ballare; e in terzo luogo, se domando qualcosa, che nessuno possa rifiutarla-. L'omino disse: -Avrai tutte queste cose!-. Gli diede violino e archibugio, e poi se ne andò per la sua strada. Il servo, che già si riteneva fortunato prima, pensava ora di esserlo dieci volte di più. Poco dopo incontrò un vecchio ebreo che se ne stava ai piedi di un albero in cima al quale, sul ramo più alto, c'era una piccola allodola che cantava, cantava. -Bontà divina!- esclamò l'ebreo -cosa può mai fare una simile bestiola! Non so che darei per averla!- -Se è tutto qui- disse il servo -sarà facile farla cadere.- Prese la mira e centrò l'uccello che cadde dall'albero. -Andate a raccoglierlo- disse poi. Ma l'uccello era caduto in uno spineto ai piedi dell'albero. Allora l'ebreo si fece strada nello spineto e, quando vi fu in mezzo, il servo tirò fuori il suo violino e si mise a suonare. Subito l'ebreo si mise a ballare senza posa, e prese a saltare sempre più in fretta e sempre più alto. Ma le spine gli laceravano le vesti, sicché‚ qua e là pendevano dei brandelli, lo graffiavano e lo ferivano da fargli sanguinare tutto il corpo. -Per l'amor di Dio!- gridò l'ebreo. -Smetta vossignoria con quel violino, che ho mai fatto di male?- Ma l'allegro servitore pensò: "Hai scorticato la gente a sufficienza: ora avrai altrettanto" e si mise a suonare un'altra danza. Allora l'ebreo si mise a pregarlo e gli promise del denaro se smetteva di suonare. Ma i soldi non bastavano mai al servo che continuò a suonare finché‚ l'ebreo non gli promise cento bei fiorini che teneva nella borsa e che aveva appena estorti a un poveraccio. Quando il servo vide tutto quel denaro, disse: -Così va bene-. Prese la borsa e ritirò il violino; poi continuò per la sua strada allegro e tranquillo. L'ebreo uscì dallo spineto mezzo nudo e malandato, si mise a pensare a come poteva vendicarsi e gridò al violinista quante ingiurie sapeva. Poi corse da un giudice e si lamentò dicendo di essere stato derubato del suo oro da un furfante che, per giunta, l'aveva ridotto da far pietà; colui portava un fucile sulla schiena e un violino a tracolla. Allora il giudice inviò messi e sbirri a cercarlo, ed egli fu ben presto rintracciato e condotto a giudizio. Allora l'ebreo lo accusò di avergli rubato il denaro, ma il servo disse: -Non è vero, il denaro me lo hai dato tu perché‚ smettessi di suonare-. Ma il giudice andò per le spicce e condannò il servo alla forca. Questi era già salito sulla scala a pioli, e aveva la corda al collo, quando disse: -Signor giudice, vogliate concedermi un'ultima preghiera!-. -Ti sia concessa- rispose il giudice -purché‚ tu non chieda la grazia.- -No, non si tratta della grazia- rispose il servo. -Vi prego di lasciarmi suonare per l'ultima volta il mio violino.- Allora l'ebreo si mise a gridare: -Per amor di Dio, non permetteteglielo! Non permetteteglielo!-. Ma il giudice disse: -Gli spetta e così sia-. Del resto non poteva rifiutare, proprio per quel dono che era stato concesso al servo. L'ebreo gridò: -Ahimè! Legatemi stretto!-. Il servo prese il violino e al primo colpo di archetto tutti si misero a dondolare e a traballare, giudice, scrivani e uscieri, e nessuno poté legare l'ebreo; al secondo colpo d'archetto, il boia lasciò andare il servo e si mise a ballare; quando si mise a suonare ballarono tutti insieme: il giudice e l'ebreo davanti e tutta la gente che si era radunata sul mercato per assistere. All'inizio era divertente, ma poi, siccome il violino e la danza non cessavano, presero a strillare miseramente e lo pregarono di smettere, ma egli continuò finché‚ il giudice non gli concesse la grazia e gli promise di lasciargli anche i cento fiorini. Poi disse ancora all'ebreo: -Furfante, confessa donde ti viene il denaro, o continuo a suonare solo per te!-. -L'ho rubato, l'ho rubato! Tu, invece, l'hai guadagnato onestamente- gridò l'ebreo, e tutti udirono. Allora il servo smise di suonare, mentre l'infame fu impiccato al suo posto.