ONCE upon a time there was a little shepherd boy who was famed far and wide for the wise answers which he gave to all questions. Now the King of the country heard of this lad, but he would not believe what was said about him, so the boy was ordered to come to court. When he arrived the King said to him: “If you can give me answers to each of the three questions which I will now put to you, I will bring you up as my own child, and you shall live here with me in my palace.”
“What are these three questions?” asked the boy.
“The first is: How many drops of water are there in the sea?”
“My lord King,” replied the shepherd boy, “let all the waters be stopped up on the earth, so that not one drop shall run into the sea before I count it, and then I will tell you how many drops there are in the sea!”
“The second question,” said the King, “is: How many stars are there in the sky?”
“Give me a large sheet of paper,” said the boy; and then he made in it with a pin so many minute holes that they were far too numerous to see or to count, and dazzled the eyes of whomsoever looked at them. This done, he said: “So many stars are there in the sky as there are holes in this paper; now count them.” But nobody was able. Thereupon the King said: “The third question is: How many seconds are there in eternity?”
“In Lower Pomerania is situated the adamantine mountain, one mile in height, one mile in breadth, and one mile deep; and thither comes a bird once in every thousand years which rubs its beak against the hill, and, when the whole shall be rubbed away, then will the first second of eternity be gone by.”
“You have answered the three questions like a sage,” said the King, “and from henceforward you shall live with me in my palace, and I will treat you as my own child.”