There was a man who had three sons, the youngest of
whom was considered very silly, and everybody used
to mock him and make fun of him.
The eldest son wanted to go and cut wood in the forest,
and before he left home his mother prepared beautiful
pancakes and a bottle of wine for him to take with him,
so that he might not suffer from hunger or thirst.
As he entered the forest he met a gray old man,
who bade him "Good-morning," and said: "Give me a little
piece of cake out of your basket and a drop of wine out
of your bottle, for I am very hungry and thirsty."
But the clever son replied: "What, give you my cake
and my wine! Why, if I did, I should have none for myself.
Not I, indeed, so take yourself off!" and he left the man
standing and went on.
The young man began cutting
down a tree, but it was not long before he made a false
stroke: the axe slipped and cut his arm so badly that
he was obliged to go home and have it bound up.
Now, this false stroke was caused by the little gray old man.
Next day the second son went into the forest to cut wood,
and his mother gave him a cake and a bottle of wine.
As he entered the wood the same little old man met
him, and begged for a piece of cake and a drop of wine.
But the second son answered rudely: "What I might
give to you I shall want myself, so be off." Then he left
the little old man standing in the road, and walked on.
His punishment soon came; he had scarcely given two
strokes on a tree with his axe, when he hit his leg
such a terrible blow that he was obliged to limp home
in great pain. Then the stupid son said to his father,
"Let me go for once and cut wood in the forest."
But his father said: "No, your brothers have been
hurt already, and it would be worse for you, who don't
understand wood-cutting." The boy, however, begged
so hard to be allowed to go that his father said:
"There, get along with you; you will buy your experience
very dearly, I expect." His mother, however, gave him a cake
which had been made with water and baked in the ashes,
and a bottle of sour beer. When he reached the wood the very
same little old man met him, and after greeting him kindly,
said: "Give me a little of your cake and a drop from your
bottle, for I am very hungry and thirsty."
"Oh," replied the simple youth, "I have only a cake,
which has been baked in the ashes, and some sour beer;
but you are welcome to a share of it. Let us sit down,
and eat and drink together." So they seated themselves,
and, lo and behold, when the youth opened his basket,
the cake had been turned into a beautiful cake,
and the sour beer into wine.
After they had eaten and drank enough,
the little old man said: "Because you
have been kind-hearted, and shared your dinner with me,
I will make you in future lucky in all you undertake.
There stands an old tree; cut it down, and you will find
something good at the root." Then the old man said
"Farewell," and left him. The youth set to work,
and very soon succeeded in felling the tree, when he found
sitting at the roots a goose, whose feathers were of pure gold.
All pictures by
L. Leslie Brooke (1862-1940)