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. He took it up, and, instead of going home, carried it with him to an inn at a little distance, where he intended to pass the night.