Once upon a time there was a king who did the best he could to rule wisely and well, and to deal justly by those under him whom he had to take care of; and as he could not trust hearsay, he used every now and then to slip away out of his palace and go among his people to hear what they had to say for themselves about him and the way he ruled the land.
Well, one such day as this, when he was taking a walk, he strolled out past the walls of the town and into the green fields until he came at last to a fine big house that stood by the banks of a river, wherein lived a man and his wife who were very well to do in the world. There the king stopped for a bite of bread and a drink of fresh milk.
“I would like to ask you a question,” said the king to the rich man; “and the question is this: Why are some folk rich and some folk poor?”
“That I cannot tell you,” said the good man; “only I remember my father used to say that much shall have more and little shall have less.”
“Very well,” said the king; “the saying has a good sound, but let us find whether or not it is really true. See; here is a purse with three hundred pieces of golden money in it. Take it and give it to the poorest man you know; in a week’s time I will come again, and then you shall tell me whether it has made you or him the richer.”
Now in the town there lived two beggars who were as poor as poverty itself, and the poorer of the twain was one who used to sit in rags and tatters on the church step to beg charity of the good folk who came and went. To him went the rich man, and, without so much as a good-morning, quoth he: “Here is something for you,” and so saying dropped the purse of gold into the beggar’s hat. Then away he went without waiting for a word of thanks.
As for the beggar, he just sat there for a while goggling and staring like one moon-struck. But at last his wits came back to him, and then away he scampered home as fast as his legs could carry him. Then he spread his money out on the table and counted it–three hundred pieces of gold money! He had never seen such great riches in his life before. There he sat feasting his eyes upon the treasure as though they would never get their fill. And now what was he to do with all of it? Should he share his fortune with his brother? Not a bit of it. To be sure, until now they had always shared and shared alike, but here was the first great lump of good-luck that had ever fallen in his way, and he was not for spoiling it by cutting it in two to give half to a poor beggar-man such as his brother. Not he; he would hide it and keep it all for his very own.
Now, not far from where he lived, and beside the river, stood a willow-tree, and thither the lucky beggar took his purse of money and stuffed it into a knot-hole of a withered branch, then went his way, certain that nobody would think of looking for money in such a hiding-place. Then all the rest of the day he sat thinking and thinking of the ways he would spend what had been given him, and what he would do to get the most good out of it. At last came evening, and his brother, who had been begging in another part of the town, came home again.