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
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
Mercury dove down for the third time with a splash, and when
he surfaced he held in his hand the Woodman’s battered
“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
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!