T HERE were once three brothers—Peter, Paul and Espen—who set out from home to find their way through the woods. Now, Peter and Paul thought they knew all that needed to be known, and they were sure that they could do anything that needed to be done. Espen said but little, and the others thought he was of no account.
Their way led through a deep wood, where grew splendid trees and beautiful flowers. Happy birds flitted from tree to tree, and it was a pleasant place. After a while the boys heard a strange sound far away to one side.
"I wonder," said Espen, "I wonder what that sound can be."
"That, you silly boy," said his brothers; "why, it is just a woodchopper chopping at a tree. Did you never hear a woodchopper before?"
"Yes, I have," said Espen, "but I wonder just what it is that we hear. I am going to find out."
"Nonsense," said Paul and Peter, "come with us, and don't stop for that."
"No," said Espen; "I am going to find out."
So away he went and there, far off in the woods, he found an axe chopping away all by itself.
"Good morning, dear axe," said Espen; "what are you doing there, all by yourself?"
"I have been waiting here hundreds of years for you," said the axe.
"Well, here I am," said Espen, and he took the axe and tucked it into his belt and hurried off to catch up with his brothers. They had not gone very much farther through the woods when they heard another strange sound—tap, tap, tap—far away to one side.
"I wonder," said Espen, "what that sound may be."
"That, you silly boy," said his brothers; "why, that is just a stonecutter picking at a rock. Did you never hear a pickaxe before?"
"Oh, yes," said Espen, "but I wonder just what it is that we hear. I am going to find out."
"Nonsense," said Peter and Paul, "come with us; we shall never get out of this wood."
No," said Espen; "I am going to find out."
So away he went and there, far off in the wood, he came to a pickaxe tapping at a rock all by itself.
"Good morning, dear pickaxe," said Espen; "what are you doing here, all by yourself?"
"I have been waiting here hundreds of years for you," said the pickaxe.
"Well, here I am," said Espen, slinging the pickaxe over his shoulder and hurrying on to catch up with his brothers.
"Well, what did you find?" they asked of Espen. "Was it not a pickaxe?"
"Yes, it was a pickaxe," said Espen.
Presently the three boys came to a brook. "I wonder where this brook came from," said Espen.
"Well, did you never see a brook before?" asked Peter and Paul.
"Yes," said Espen, "but I wonder where it comes from."
So, in spite of his brothers laughing at him, Espen followed the brook until it grew narrower and narrower, and at last he found it trickling from a walnut-shell.
"Well, dear brook, what are you doing here, all by yourself?" asked Espen.
"I have been waiting here hundreds of years for you," said the brook.
So Espen took the walnut-shell and plugged it up with a bit of moss and put it in his pocket. Then he hurried on, but Peter and Paul were a long way ahead of him. They had come to the city. Now, it happened that in front of the king's palace was a tree that had grown so large, and made the palace so shady and gloomy, that the King wished it cut down. But, strange to say, every time one of its branches was cut off another grew in its place. So, instead of growing smaller, the tree ever grew larger, and the King had offered half of his kingdom to whoever could cut it down.
Many people had tried, and had failed, and at last the King decreed that whoever tried and failed should be sent away to a very distant island, never to return. The palace was on a high hill, and every drop of water the King needed had to be carried up the hill. The King said he would give half his kingdom to whoever could cut down the tree and dig him a well. Many people had tried to dig the well and cut down the tree, but they all had failed and the King had sent them off to his distant island.
At last came Peter and Paul, the brothers who thought they knew everything in the world. They were sure they could cut down the tree and dig the well, but they, also, failed and they were sent off to the island to stay always. Then along came Espen, and he, too, wished to try.
"Oh, see your poor brothers!" cried all the people. "You must not try."
"I will try," said Espen.
So he took his axe from his belt, and put it at the foot of the tree and said to it: "Chop away, my axe."
And the axe chopped and chopped away until, in a few minutes, the tree was down. Then he took the pickaxe, put it in the hard rock and said: "Dig away, my pickaxe."
In a little while the pickaxe had dug a great, deep hole. Then Espen took out his walnut-shell, pulled out the moss and dropped it far down into the ground. In a minute the water bubbled up as high as a fountain, and there was a splendid spring with all the water that was needed for the palace.
So the foolish Espen, whom no one thought to be of much account, had done what no other had done; and the King gave him half of his kingdom.
— Retold from traditional Norwegian tale
by Bertha Johnston, "Kindergarten Magazine"