One day a woodman was cutting down a tree by the side of a river. When he became tired his axe flew out of his hand and fell into the river.
“What shall I do?” said the woodman, weeping, “I have only this axe to work with. Have no money to buy another. How shall I live without any work?”
He cried aloud and prayed to the Spirit of the river to come and help him to get back the axe.
The spirit came and said, “Why do you cry, woodman?”
“I have lost my only axe,” said the woodman. “It has fallen down into the river. So I prayed to you to get it back for me.”
“All right I will bring it to you,” said the Spirit.
She at once put her hand into the river and drew out an axe made of gold.
“Is this your axe?” asked the spirit.
No, it is not mine,” answered the woodman, “my axe was not made of silver. It was made of iron.”
The next time the Spirit brought the woodman’s axe from the river.
“That is my axe,” he cried out in joy. “I know not how to thank you for your kindness.” He fell down at her feet and bowed.
The spirit gave all the three axes to the woodman. “I am so much pleased with you for your honesty,” She said, “that I give you the three axes I brought up or you. You may keep them all.”
When the woodman went home, he told another woodman what had happened. That man thought to himself: “This is an easy way to fortune. I should try a chance like this.”
Next day the second woodman went to the same spot and began to cut a tree. But after a minute he threw his axe into the river. He then called on the Spirit of the river to get it back for him.
The Spirit came, as she had come to the first woodman. She put her hand in the river and drew out a golden axe as before.
“Is this your axe?” said the Spirit.
“Yes, yes, this is mine, no doubt,” said the greedy woodman, and jumped up a snatch away the axe from her hand.
At once the Spirit dashed him down and threw the axe back into the river. “What a greedy liar you are!” said the Spirit. “You can have no fortune in your life.” So saying the Spirit dived into the river.
So the greedy woodman did not get either a gold or a silver axe, and lost his own axe as well.