Mercury and the Woodsman

A woodsman was felling a tree on the bank of a river and by chance let slip his axe into the water, when it immediately sunk to the bottom. Being in great distress, he sat down by the side of the stream and lamented his loss bitterly. But Mercury, whose river it was, took compassion on him and appeared at that instant before him.

Hearing the cause of his sorrow, Mercury dove to the bottom of the river, brought up a golden axe, and asked the woodman if that were his. Upon the man's denying it, Mercury dove a second time and brought up one of silver. Again the man denied that it was his. So diving a third time, Mercury produced the identical axe that the man had lost. "That is mine!" said the woodman, delighted to have recovered his own. Mercury was so pleased with the fellow's truth and honesty that he at once made him a present of the other two.

The woodsman went to his companions and gave them an account of what had happened to him. One of the companions determined to try whether he might not have the same good fortune. So, repairing to the same place, as if for the purpose of cutting wood, he let his axe slip on purpose into the river, and then sat down on the bank and made a great show of weeping.

Mercury appeared as before, and hearing from him that his tears were caused by the loss of his axe, dived once more into the stream. Bringing up a golden axe, Mercury asked him if that was the axe he had lost. "Aye, surely," said the man, eagerly. He was about to grasp the treasure when Mercury, to punish his impudence and lying, not only refused to give him that, but would not so much as restore him his own axe again.