There was once a man who had three sons, the youngest of whom was called the Simpleton. He was laughed at and despised and neglected on all occasions. Now it happened one day that the eldest son wanted to go into the forest, to hew wood, and his Mother gave him a beautiful cake and a bottle of wine to take with him, so that he might not suffer from hunger or thirst. When he came to the wood he met a little old grey man, who, bidding him good-day, said: “Give me a small piece of the cake in your wallet, and let me drink a mouthful of your wine; I am so hungry and thirsty.”
But the clever son answered: “If I were to give you my cake and wine, I should have none for myself, so be off with you,” and he left the little man standing there, and walked away.
Hardly had he begun to hew down a tree, when his axe slipped and cut his arm, so that he had to go home at once and have the wound bound up. This was the work of the little grey man.
Thereupon the second son went into the wood, and the Mother gave him, as she had given to the eldest, a sweet cake and a bottle of wine. The little old man met him also, and begged for a small slice of cake and a drink of wine. But the second son spoke out quite plainly. “What I give to you I lose myself—be off with you,” and he left the little man standing there, and walked on. Punishment was not long in coming to him, for he had given but two strokes at a tree when he cut his leg so badly that he had to be carried home.
Then said the Simpleton, “Father, let me go into the forest and hew wood.” But his Father answered him, “Your brothers have done themselves much harm, so as you understand nothing about wood-cutting you had better not try.” But the Simpleton begged for so long that at last the Father said, “Well, go if you like; experience will soon make you wiser.” To him the Mother gave a cake, but it was made with water and had been baked in the ashes, and with it she gave him a bottle of sour beer. When he came to the wood the little grey man met him also, and greeted him, and said, “Give me a slice of your cake and a drink from your bottle; I am so hungry and thirsty.
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