A poor woodman was cutting down a tree near the edge of a deep pool in the forest. It was late in the day and the woodman was tired. He had been working since sunrise and his strokes were not as sure as they were early that morning. Thus, it happened that the axe slipped, flew out of his hands and into the pool.
The woodman was in despair. The axe was all he possessed and his only way to make a living, and he didn’t have enough money to buy a new one. As he stood weeping, the god Mercury suddenly appeared and asked what the trouble was. The woodman told Mercury what had happened, and straight away, the kind god dived into the pool. When he came up again he held a wonderful golden axe.
“Is this your axe?” Mercury asked the woodman.
“No,” answered the honest Woodman, “that is not my axe.”
Mercury laid the golden axe on the bank and dived back into the pool. This time he brought up an axe of silver, but the woodman declared again that his axe was just an ordinary one with a wooden handle.
Mercury dived down for the third time and when he came up again he had the woodman’s very axe.
The poor woodman was very glad that his axe was found and could not thank the kind god enough. Mercury was greatly pleased with the woodman’s honesty.
“I admire your honesty,” he said, “and as a reward you may have all three axes, the gold and the silver as well as your own.”
It pays to be honest.