(a German folktale)
Once upon a time, a musician was wandering through the forest and thinking about how lonely he was. He wished he could find a companion, so he took out his fiddle and began to play.
Soon a wolf appeared. The musician didn’t care to spend time with a wolf, but before he could run away, the wolf said, “Oh, ho! Wait! You play so beautifully, could you teach me?”
“Well,” the musician said, thoughtfully, “I will. But you must do exactly what I tell you to do.”
The wolf agreed he would, so the two set off together.
Before long, they came to a hollow oak tree with a crack in the middle of the trunk.
The musician looked at it and stroked his beard.
“If you want to fiddle,” he said to the wolf, “here’s your chance. First, place your paws inside this crack.”
The wolf had promised to follow instructions, so he laid his paws in the crack. As he did, the musician wedged a stone inside that crack and the wolf was stuck, a prisoner to the tree. He looked with surprise at the smiling musician.
“Wait here and you will learn how to be a musician,” the musician said, and off he ran.
By sunset, the musician was lonely again. Once again, he thought he must find a companion, so, once again, he took out his fiddle and began to play. Soon a fox slinked from behind the trees and moved toward him.
The musician didn’t care to spend time with a fox, but before he could run away, the fox came close and said, “I’d like to learn to play like you! Will you teach me?”
“Easily done!” the musician said. “But you must promise to do exactly as I instruct.”
“Of course,” the fox agreed.
The two set off together, and just before dark, they came to a path bordered on either side by tall hazel trees. The musician reached out and bent a thick bough to the ground, one on each side of the path, and he stepped on those boughs to hold them down.
He turned to the fox and said, “Give me your left front paw if you wish to learn how to be a fiddler.”
The fox did as he was told, and the musician tied his paw to the end of one of the branches.
“And now the right one,” said the musician, and the fox put his right paw forward.
The musician tied his paw to the other branch, and he stepped off the ends. Back they sprang, so the fox was suspended in midair.
“Now, wait here,” said the musician, and off he set.
That night he slept under the stars. When the sun began to rise, he felt lonely again, so he took out his fiddle and began to play. This time, a hare ran out of the woods toward him.
The musician had no interest in the hare, but the hare said, “How beautiful are the sounds you make! Can you teach me to play? I’ll be your finest pupil!”
“You must do exactly as I say,” said the musician, and the hare agreed. They walked on until they came to a field where a tall aspen grew.
“Stand still,” said the musician. He tied a cord around the hare’s slender neck, and he fastened the other end to a branch.
“Now, furry friend,” said the musician, “if you wish to be a fine musician like me, you must run around this tree 20 times.”
The hare did as he was told, and the cord twisted around and around, and soon the little hare was held fast to the trunk of that tree.
The musician smiled and said, “Now wait here until I return,” and off he set.
In the meantime, the wolf had tugged and pushed and pulled at that stone. At long last, he had set himself free. Filled with fury, he set off to find the musician. As he was running, he happened to pass the fox hanging in the air.
“Wait!” the fox called. “A musician has deceived me and left me hanging here!”
When the wolf heard this, he was happy to help. He leaped up and pulled down the branches and bit them and set the fox free.
“Two of us together will cause double-trouble,” said the wolf, and off they set to take their revenge on the musician.
Before long, they came to the tree where the poor little hare was struggling to get free.
“A musician just left me here!” the hare wailed.
The fox and wolf tore through his cord and set him free.
The wolf said, “The three of us together are a triple threat!” and they set off to find their enemy.
The musician had stopped to enjoy the sunny day. He began to play his fiddle once more, and when a woodsman heard the tune, he came running to listen.
When the musician saw the woodsman, he smiled and said, “Ah, just the companion I’ve been seeking!”
He began to play even more beautifully, and the woodsman’s heart filled with joy.
A moment later, the wolf and the fox and the hare appeared, racing toward the musician.
When the woodsman saw them, he knew they were up to no good. He stepped in front of the musician and lifted his ax high in the air.
“This is my friend!” he said, and the musician simply went on fiddling.
The wolf was the first to notice the ax. Then the fox saw it. Then the hare saw it too. They all understood they had best run away.
And that’s what they did.
The musician played the prettiest tune he’d ever played, and from that day on, he and the woodsman were the finest of friends.