An Aesop’s Fable adapted by Linda King Pruitt

There was once a poor, but honest Woodsman who lived with his family in a forest. He worked hard, cutting down trees so he could sell the firewood. This is how he supported his family. All day long you could hear the sound of his faithful ax ringing through the woods.

One day he was cutting down trees near the edge of a deep pool of water in the forest. With strong, steady strokes he chopped away until it grew quite late in the day. The Woodsman was tired, for he had been working since early morning, and his strokes were not as strong and steady as they had been. He raised his tired arms high for a final blow and his ax slipped, flew out of his hands and landed with a ‘plonk’ into the pool, sinking to the bottom.

The Woodsman cried out, “No! All is lost!” As he stood, wringing his hands, pulling his hair and weeping, the god Mercury suddenly appeared.

“What is wrong Woodsman?” asked the god.

The Woodsman wept, “My ax fell into the water! It is too deep and I cannot get it back! My ax is all I have to make a living with, and I don’t have enough money to buy a new one. My family will starve.”

Hearing this Mercury dove with a splash down to the bottom of the pool. When he surfaced he held in his hand an ax that glinted in the setting sun, for this ax was made of pure gold! Mercury held up the golden ax and asked, “Is this your ax, Woodsman?”

The Woodman’s mouth fell open and his eyes grew large with desire as he looked at the golden ax, but he shook his head. “No. That is not my ax.”

Mercury dove again with a splash down to the bottom of the pool. This time when he surfaced he held in his hand an ax that sparkled like the silvery drops of water falling from it, for it was made of pure silver!
“Is this your ax, Woodsman?” asked Mercury.

The honest Woodsman gazed with amazement at the beautiful silver ax, but again shook his head and said, “No. That is not my ax. My ax is just an ordinary old ax with a plain wooden handle.”
Mercury dove down for the third time with a splash, and when he surfaced he held in his hand the Woodman’s battered old ax.

“Is this your ax, Woodsman?” he asked.

The Woodsman was so glad his ax had been found! He cried out, “That’s my ax!” He eagerly took the ax and thanked the kind god again and again.

Mercury looked at the Woodman and smiled. “I admire your honesty, Woodsman. And it shall be rewarded. You may keep all three axes, the gold and the silver as well as your own.” And then Mercury disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

The Woodsman gathered the three axes in his arms and hurried home where he was met by his wife. She was so happy when she saw the gold and silver axes, she cried out, “Husband! We’ll never be hungry again!”

The very next day she took the silver ax and went to the village to buy food for her family. Soon the story of their good fortune was known to everyone in the village.

Other wives came to that good woman and asked, “Your husband was given a silver ax?”
The honest Woodman’s wife nodded happily. “Oh, yes! And a golden ax as well!”
“A gold one as well. Well, well, well,” said the other wives with greed and jealously in their voices. “Isn’t that nice!” The greedy wives went home to their husbands and shook their fists as they yelled, “We want silver! We want gold! Go into the woods and lose your axes and call upon the god Mercury for help. We want to be rich!”

The men from the village hurried into the woods and hid their axes in the bushes, pretending they had lost them. Then they began weeping and wailing, “Oh, Mercury! Help us! We have lost our axes.Help us!”

Suddenly Mercury appeared, holding a silver ax. He asked the men, “Is this your ax?”

One of the men eagerly nodded his head, “Yes, yes! That’s my ax!” Another said, “Why, that looks just like the ax I lost!” A third man, greedier than the rest said, “Actually, my ax was made of gold.”

Mercury did not give any of the men the silver or the golden ax. Instead he gave them each a hardy whack over the head and sent them home. And when those men returned to the woods the next day to look for their own axes...they were nowhere to be found!



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