A woodman was once working on the bank of a deep river. Suddenly his axe slipped from his hand and dropped into the water.
“Oh! I have lost my axe,” he cried. “What shall I do? Who can help me?”
Mercury heard the poor man’s cries and appeared before him.
‘What is the matter, poor woodman?” he asked. “What has happened? Why are you so sad and unhappy?”
Mercury listened to the man’s story and then said, “Perhaps I can help you.” He dived into the river and brought up a golden axe. “Is this yours?” he asked. “No, that is not mine,” was the answer.
Mercury dived a second time and this time brought up a silver axe. “Is this yours?” he asked. Again the answer was “No.” So Mercury dived a third time and brought up the very axe that the woodman had lost. “That’s my axe,” cried the man. “Yes, that is my axe. Now I can work again.”
Mercury was so pleased with the follow’s honesty that at once he made him a present of the other two axes and disappeared before the man could say, “Thank you”.
The woodman went home very pleased with his good luck. He told his friends all about it and one of them decided to try his luck. So he went to the same place, dropped his axe into the river, and cried out: “Oh! I have lost my axe. What shall I do? Who can help me?”
Mercury appeared as before, and when he learnt that man had lost his axe, he dived into the river. Again he brought up a golden axe. “Is this yours”? he asked.
“Yes, it is,” answered the woodman. “You are not telling me the truth,” said Mercury.
You will neither have this axe nor the one that you so foolishly dropped into the water.”