In the “backwoods” of Pennsylvania stood a little mill. The miller appertaining unto this mill was a Pennsylvania Dutchman—a species of animal in which for some centuries sauerkraut has been usurping the place of sense. In Hans Donnerspiel the usurpation was not complete; he still knew enough to go in when it rained, but he did not know enough to stay there after the storm had blown over. Hans was known to a large circle of friends and admirers as about the worst miller in those parts; but as he was the only one, people who quarrelled with an exclusively meat diet continued to patronize him. He was honest, as all stupid people are; but he was careless. So absent-minded was he, that sometimes when grinding somebody’s wheat he would thoughtlessly turn into the “hopper” a bag of rye, a lot of old beer-bottles, or a basket of fish. This made the flour so peculiar, that the people about there never knew what it was to be well a day in all their lives. There were so many local diseases in that vicinity, that a doctor from twenty miles away could not have killed a patient in a week.
Hans meant well; but he had a hobby—a hobby that he did not ride: that does not express it: it rode him. It spurred him so hard, that the poor wretch could not pause a minute to see what he was putting into his mill. This hobby was the purchase of jackasses. He expended all his income in this diversion, and his mill was fairly sinking under its weight of mortgages. He had more jackasses than he had hairs on his head, and, as a rule, they were thinner. He was no mere amateur collector either, but a sharp discriminating connoisseur. He would buy a fat globular donkey if he could not do better; but a lank shabby one was the apple of his eye. He rolled such a one, as it were, like a sweet morsel under his tongue.
Hans’s nearest neighbour was a worthless young scamp named Jo Garvey, who lived mainly by hunting and fishing. Jo was a sharp-witted rascal, without a single scruple between, himself and fortune. With a tithe of Hans’s industry he might have been almost anything; but his dense laziness always rose up like a stone wall about him, shutting him in like a toad in a rock. The exact opposite of Hans in almost every respect, he was notably similar in one: he had a hobby. Jo’s hobby was the selling of jackasses.
One day, while Hans’s upper and nether mill-stones were making it lively for a mingled grist of corn, potatoes, and young chickens, he heard Joseph calling outside. Stepping to the door, he saw him holding three halters to which were appended three donkeys.
“I say, Hans,” said he, “here are three fine animals for your stud. I have brought ’em up from the egg, and I know ’em to be first-class. But they ’re not so big as I expected, and you may have ’em for a sack of oats each.”
Hans was delighted. He had not the least doubt in the world that Joe had stolen them; but it was a fixed principle with him never to let a donkey go away and say he was a hard man to deal with. He at once brought out and delivered the oats. Jo gravely examined the quality, and placing a sack across each animal, calmly led them away.