A poor woodman was cutting down the tree near the edge of a deep pool in the forest. It was late in the day and the Woodman was tired. He had been working since sunrise and his strokes were not as sure as they had been early that morning. Thus it happened that the axe slipped and flew out of his hands into the pool. The Woodman was in despair. The axe was all he possessed with which to make a living, and he had not enough money to buy a new one. As he stood wringing his hands and weeping, the god Mercury suddenly appeared and asked what the trouble was.
The Woodman told what had happened, and straightway the kind Mercury dived into the pool. When he came up again he held a wonderful golden axe. “Is this your axe?” Mercury asked the Woodman. “No,” answered the honest Woodman, “that is not my axe.” Mercury laid the golden axe on the bank and sprang back into the pool. This time he brought up an axe of silver, but the Woodman declared again that his axe was just an ordinary one with a wooden handle. Mercury dived down for the third time and when he came up again he had the very axe that had been lost. The poor Woodman was very glad that his axe had been found and could not thank the kind god enough.
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Mercury was greatly pleased with the Woodman’s honesty. “I admire your honesty,” he said, “and as a reward you may have all three axes, the gold and the silver as well as your own.” The happy Woodman returned to his home with his treasures, and soon the story of his good fortune was known to everybody in the village. Now there were several Woodmen in the village who believed that they could easily win the same good fortune. They hurried out into the woods, one here, and one there and hiding their axes in the bushes, pretended they had lost them. Then they wept and wailed and called on Mercury to help them. And indeed, Mercury did appear, first to this one, then to that.
To each one he showed an axe of gold and each one eagerly claimed it to be the one he had lost. But Mercury did not give them the golden axe. Oh no! Instead he gave them each a hard whack over the head with it and sent them home. And when they returned next day to look for their own axes, they were nowhere to be found. Honesty is the best policy.
2. The Bull and the Goat
Bull once escaped from a Lion by entering a cave which the Goatherds used to house their flocks in stormy weather and at night.
It happened that one of the Goats had been left behind, and the Bull had no sooner got inside than this Goat lowered his head and made a rush at him, butting him with his horns. As the Lion was still prowling outside the entrance to the cave, the Bull had to submit to the insult. “Do not think,” he said, “that I submit to your cowardly treatment because I am afraid of you. When that Lion leaves, I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget.
” It is wicked to take advantage of another’s distress.
3. The Old Lion and the Fox
An old Lion, whose teeth and claws were so worn that it was not so easy for him to get food as in is younger days, pretended that he was sick. He took care to let all his neighbors know about it and then lay down in his cave to wait for visitors. And when they came to offer him their sympathy, he ate them up one by one. The Fox came too, but he was very cautious about it. Standing at a safe distance from the cave, he inquired politely after the Lion’s health.
The Lion replied that he was very ill indeed and asked the Fox to step in for a moment. But Master Fox very wisely stayed outside, thanking the Lion very kindly for the invitation. “I should be glad to do as you ask,” He added, “but I have noticed that there are many foot-prints leading into your cave and none coming out.
Pray tell me, how do your visitors find their way out again?” Take warning from the misfortunes of others.
4. The Wolf and the Shepherd
A Wolf, lurking near the Shepherd’s hut, saw the Shepherd and his family feasting on a roasted lamb. “Aha!” he muttered. “What a great shouting and running about there would have been, had they caught me at just the very thing they are doing with so much enjoyment!” Men often condemn others for what they see no wrong in doing themselves.
5. The Miser
A Miser had buried his gold in a secret place in his garden. Every day he went to the spot, dug up the treasure and counted it piece by piece to make sure it was all there.
He made so many trips that a Thief, who had been observing him, guessed what it was the Miser had hidden and one night quietly dug up the treasure and made off with it. When the Miser discovered his loss, he was overcome with grief and despair. He groaned and cried and tore his hair. A passer-by heard his cries and asked what had happened.
“My gold! O my gold!” cried the Miser, wildly, “someone has robbed me!” “Your gold! There in that hole? Why did you put it there? Why did you not keep it in the house where you could easily get it when you had to buy things?” “Buy!” screamed the Miser angrily. “Why, I never touched the gold. I couldn’t think of spending any of it.” The stranger picked up a large stone and threw it into the hole. “If that is the case,” he said, “cover up that stone. It is worth just as much to you as the treasure you lost!” A possession is worth no more than the use we make of it.