"The Devoted Friend" is a darkly comic short story for children by the Irish author Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1888 in the anthology The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which in addition to its title story also includes "The Nightingale and the Rose", "The Selfish Giant" and "The Remarkable Rocket".
The two main characters in "The Devoted Friend" are a poor man known as little Hans and a rich Miller. The Miller claims to be a devoted friend of little Hans. In truth, he selfishly takes advantage of little Hans at every opportunity. Little Hans always does everything that the Miller asks him to do because he does not want to lose the Miller's friendship or offend him. Little Hans' desire to remain the Miller's friend ultimately proves fatal for him.
"The Devoted Friend" takes the form of a "story-within-a-story". The main narrative is told to a Water-rat by a Linnet. The Water-rat chastises a Duck for allowing her children to misbehave. When the Duck responds that she is a good parent, the Water-rat says that he knows nothing about family life because he is single. He goes on to say that he is not interested in love but thinks that, "there is nothing in the world either nobler or rarer than a devoted friendship". When the Linnet asks the Water-rat what he would expect of a devoted friend, he replies, "I would expect my devoted friend to be devoted to me". In an attempt to show the Water-rat the foolishness of what he has said, the Linnet tells him the story of little Hans and the Miller.
During the spring, summer and autumn, little Hans makes a living by selling the flowers and fruit from his beautiful garden. During the winter, he struggles to survive. Hugh the wealthy Miller, who owns several cows and sheep in addition to his profitable mill, claims to be a good friend of little Hans. He often goes to see him from spring to autumn, always helping himself to a lot of little Hans' flowers or fruit when he visits him. The Miller never goes to see little Hans during the winter, claiming that he is certain that little Hans would not like to be bothered during that difficult time of year.
At the start of spring, the Miller visits little Hans. He finds out that, in order to have any money for food during the winter, little Hans was forced to sell several of his possessions, including his wheelbarrow. The Miller tells Hans that he will give him his old wheelbarrow, which is in very bad condition with one side completely missing. Hans replies that he can repair the wheelbarrow because he has a plank of wood in his house. The Miller says that the plank is exactly what he needs to fix the hole in the roof of his barn. The Miller goes on to ask Hans to fill a large basket with flowers. The Miller tells Hans that it would be unfriendly to refuse him the flowers or the plank since he has promised him his wheelbarrow.
The following day, the Miller tells little Hans to take a sack of flour to market for him. The next day, he tells Hans to fix his barn roof. The day after that, he tells Hans to drive his sheep to the mountain. Each day, the Miller has another task for little Hans which takes Hans all day to perform. The Miller always tells Hans that it would be unfriendly of him to refuse and reminds him that he has promised to give him his wheelbarrow. Little Hans has no time to tend to the garden which he depends on to make a living.
On a stormy night, the Miller comes to little Hans' house. He says that his son is injured and tells little Hans to fetch the doctor. He refuses to lend Hans his lantern because it is a new one. Again, he reminds little hans that he has promised to give him his wheelbarrow and that it would be unfriendly to refuse to help him. Little Hans follows the doctor back to the Miller's house. However, since Hans does not have a lantern and it is raining so heavily that it is difficult to see, Hans gets lost. He wanders onto the moor and drowns in a pool.
The Miller concludes that little Hans died because he promised to give him his wheelbarrow for free. He says, "I will certainly take care not to give anything away again. One always suffers for being generous".
After having heard the story, the Water-rat says that he feels sorry for the sensitive Miller. The Linnet points out that there is a moral to the story which the Water-rat has failed to understand. The Water-rat is horrified when he finds out that the story was supposed to have a moral and leaves in disgust.