THERE was once upon a time a marvellous musician. One day he was wandering through a wood all by himself, thinking now of one thing, now of another, till there was nothing else left to think about. Then he said to himself:
‘Time hangs very heavily on my hands when I’m all alone in the wood. I must try and find a pleasant companion.’
So he took his fiddle out, and fiddled till he woke the echoes round. After a time a wolf came through the thicket and trotted up to the musician.
‘Oh! it’s a Wolf, is it?’ said he. ‘I’ve not the smallest wish for his society.’
But the Wolf approached him and said:
‘Oh, my dear musician, how beautifully you play! I wish you’d teach me how it’s done.’
‘That’s easily learned,’ answered the fiddler; ‘you must only do exactly as I tell you.’
‘Of course I will,’ replied the Wolf. ‘I can promise that you will find me a most apt pupil.’
So they joined company and went on their way together, and after a time they came to an old oak tree, which was hollow and had a crack in the middle of the trunk.
‘Now,’ said the Musician, ‘if you want to learn to fiddle, here’s your chance. Lay your front paws in this crack.’
The Wolf did as he was told, and the Musician quickly seized a stone, and wedged both his fore paws so firmly into the crack that he was held there, a fast prisoner.
‘Wait there till I return,’ said the Fiddler, and he went on his way.
After a time he said to himself again:
‘Time hangs very heavily on my hands when I’m all alone in the wood; I must try and find a companion.’
So he drew out his fiddle, and fiddled away lustily. Presently a fox slunk through the trees.
‘Aha I what have we here?’ said the Musician. ‘A fox; well, I haven’t the smallest desire for his company.’
The Fox came straight up to him and said:
‘My dear friend, how beautifully you play the fiddle; I would like to learn how you do it.’
‘Nothing easier,’ said the Musician. ‘if you’ll promise to do exactly as I tell you.’
‘Certainly,’ answered the Fox, ‘you have only to say the word.’
‘Well, then, follow me,’ replied the Fiddler.
When they had gone a bi of the way, they came to a path with high trees on each side. Here the Musician halted, bent a stout hazel bough down to the ground from one side of the path, and put his foot on the end of it to keep it down. Then he bent a branch down from the other side and said:
‘Give me your left front paw, my little Fox, if you really wish to learn how it’s done.’
The Fox did as he was told, and the Musician tied his front paw to the end of one of the branches.
‘Now, my friend,’ he said, ‘give me your right paw.’
This he bound to the other branch, and having carefully seen that his knots were all secure, he stepped off the ends of the branches, and they sprang back, leaving the poor Fox suspended in mid-air.
‘Just you wait where you are till I return,’ said the Musician, and he went on his way again.
Once more he said to himself:
‘Time hangs heavily on my hands when I’m all alone in the wood; I must try and find another companion.’
So he took out his fiddle and played as merrily as before. This time a little hare came running up at the sound.
‘Oh! here comes a hare,’ said the Musician; ‘I’ve not the smallest desire for his company.’
‘How beautifully you play, dear Mr. Fiddler,’ said the little Hare. ‘I wish I could learn how you do it.’
‘It’s easily learnt,’ answered the Musician; ‘just do exactly as I tell you.’
‘That I will,’ said the Hare, ‘you will find me a most attentive pupil.’