The good ferryman and the water nymphs
There was once an old man, very poor, with three sons. They lived chiefly by ferrying people over a river; but he had had nothing but ill-luck all his life. And to crown all, on the night he died, there was a great storm, and in it the crazy old ferry-boat, on which his sons depended for a living, was sunk.
As they were lamenting both their father and their poverty, an old man came by, and learning the reason of their sorrow said:
"Never mind; all will come right in time. Look! there is your boat as good as new."
And there was a fine new ferry-boat on the water, in place of the old one, and a number of people waiting to be ferried over.
The three brothers arranged to take turns with the boat, and divide the fares they took.
They were however very different in disposition. The two elder brothers were greedy and avaricious, and would never take anyone over the river, without being handsomely paid for it.
But the youngest brother took over poor people, who had no money, for nothing; and moreover frequently relieved their wants out of his own pocket.
One day, at sunset, when the eldest brother was at the ferry the same old man, who had visited them on the night their father died, came, and asked for a passage.
"I have nothing to pay you with, but this empty purse," he said.
"Go and get something to put in it then first," replied the ferry-man; "and be off with you now!"
Next day it was the second brother's turn; and the same old man came, and offered his empty purse as his fare. But he met with a like reply.
The third day it was the youngest brother's turn; and when the old man arrived, and asked to be ferried over for charity, he answered:
"Yes, get in, old man."
"And what is the fare?" asked the old man.
"That depends upon whether you can pay or not," was the reply; "but if you cannot, it is all the same to me."
"A good deed is never without its reward," said the old man: "but in the meantime take this empty purse; though it is very worn, and looks worth nothing.