THERE was a miller who got into difficulties, and could not pay his rent. The landlord sent to him a great many times to say that if he could not pay his rent he must go out; but as he paid no attention to the notice, the landlord went himself at last, and told him he must go. The miller pleaded that his difficulties were only temporary, and that if he would give him but a little time he would make it all straight. The landlord, however, was pitiless, and said he had waited long enough, and now he had come to put an end to it; adding, 'Mind, this is my last word: If you do not go out to-night peaceably, I shall send some one to-morrow to turn you out by force.'
As he turned to leave, after pronouncing this sentence, he met the miller's daughter coming back from the stream where she had been washing. 'Who is this buxom lass?' inquired the landlord.
'That is my daughter Nina,' answered the miller.
'A fine girl she is too,' replied the landlord. 'And I tell you what, miller, listen to me; give Nina to me, and I will not only forgive you the debt, but will make over the mill and the homestead to you, to be your own property for ever.'
'Give me a proper document to that effect, duly signed by your own hand,' replied the miller, with a twinkle in his eye, 'and I will give you "Nina."'
The landlord went back into the house, and taking two sheets of paper drew up first a formal quittance of the back rent, and then a conveyance of the mill and homestead absolutely to the miller and to his heirs for ever. These he handed to the miller; and then he said, 'To-night, an hour before sundown, I will send for "Nina."'
'All right,' said the miller; 'you shall have "Nina,"' and so they parted.
'An hour before sundown a servant came with a carriage to fetch "Nina"'
'Where's "Nina"?' said the servant. 'Master has sent me to fetch "Nina."'
'In the stable--take her!' answered the miller.
In the stable was nothing to be seen but a very lean old donkey.
'There's nothing here but an old donkey,' exclaimed the servant.
'All right, that's "Nina," so take her,' replied the miller.
'But this can't be what master meant me to fetch!' expostulated the servant.
'What have you got to say to it?' replied the miller. 'Your master told you to fetch "Nina;" we always call our donkey "Nina;" so take her, and be off.'
The servant saw there was nothing to be gained by disputing, so he took the donkey and went home. When he got back, his master had got company with him, so he did not know what to say about the donkey. But his master seeing he was come back, took it for granted the business was done; and calling him to him privately said, 'Take "Nina" upstairs into the best bedroom and light a fire, and give her some supper.'
'Take her  upstairs into the best bedroom!' exclaimed the man.
'Yes! do what you're told, and don't repeat my words.'
The servant could not venture to say any more; so he took the donkey up into the best bedroom, and lit a fire, and put some supper there. As soon as his company was gone, the master called the servant--
'Is "Nina" upstairs?' asked he.
'Si, Signore; she's lying before the fire,' answered the servant.
'Did you take some supper up? I'll have my supper up there with "Nina."'
'Si, Signore,' replied the servant, and he turned away to laugh, for he thought his master had gone mad.
The landlord went upstairs; but it had now grown dark, so he groped his way to the fireplace, and there sure enough was 'Nina,' the donkey, lying down, and as he stroked her he said, 'What fine soft hair you've got, Nina!'
Presently the servant brought the lights; and when he saw the dirty old worn-out donkey, and understood what a trick the miller had played off on him, it may be imagined how furious he was.
The next day, as soon as the courts were opened, he went before the judge, and told all the tale. Then the miller came too, and told his; but the judge examined the documents, and pronounced that the miller was in the right; for his part of the contract was that he was to deliver over 'Nina,' and he had delivered over 'Nina.' There was no evidence that any other 'Nina' was intended but 'Nina' the donkey, and so the miller remained in undisputed possession of the mill.
And that is the truth, for it actually happened as I have told you.