Wondering greatly, he exclaimed, "Old woman, you are growing bigger and bigger," "Hy, hy! my son," said she, coughing and shivering, "I am only warming myself." But when he saw that she was already as tall as the beech-tree, he became frightened, and called to his companions, "Hold her, my bear! hold her, my wolf! hold her, my dog! hold her, my cat." They were none of them, however, able to move, so fast were they held together by the iron chain.
Seeing that, the old woman stooped down and touched him with her little finger, and he fell immediately into ashes. Then she touched the four animals, one after the other, with the little toe of her left foot, and they, also, crumbled to ashes.
No sooner had the old woman done this. than she collected all the ashes in a heap and buried them under an oak-tree. As she had before done with the ashes of many a youthful knight and gentleman, so she did now with those of this poor simple man. Pity, if they were to die, that some more worthy means than one hair from the head of a miserable old woman had not brought about their deaths!
A very long time had passed, and yet the eldest brother never once thought of going back to the cross-roads where he had parted with his brothers. He was engaged in the service of a good and honest master, and, finding himself so well off, fancied that his brothers were the same. His master was an innkeeper, and the whole work of the servant was to prepare, morning and evening, the beds of the guests. He did his duty so well that his master thought of adopting him for his son, as he himself was childless.
One day a gentleman of great distinction came to pass the night at the inn, and the servant thought that the stranger looked remarkably like his youngest brother. He wished to ask him his name, but could not for shame, partly because he feared his brother would reproach him for having forgotten to go to the cross-roads; partly because the guest's manners were so polished and his clothes were of fine silk and velvet; whereas he had left his brother very poorly clad, and of rustic manners.
As he thought of the likeness which the guest bore to his youngest brother, he considered that, in his travels about the world, his brother might have found wisdom, and by his wisdom might have succeeded in some way of business, and by his business might have gained money; and then, having got money, that it would be easy for him to get as fine clothes as the stranger wore. Reasoning thus, he took courage at last to ask the gentleman about his family, and at length grew bold enough to ask him plainly if he was not his brother.
This, however, the stranger quickly and positively denied, and asked, in return, about the servant's family. To all the particulars which the servant gave him he listened with a smile.
Next morning, the guest left the inn very early; and when the servant went to arrange the bed in which he had slept, he found, under the pillow, a little stone.
He thought the stone must be valuable, having been in the possession of so rich a man, and yet he considered its loss could hardly be felt by one who went clothed in silks and velvets. He lifted it to his lips to kiss it, before putting it in his pocket; but the moment his lips touched it, two negroes started out and asked him, "What are your orders, sir?" He was frightened by the suddenness of their appearance, and answered, "I do not order anything." Then the negroes disappeared, and he put the stone in his pocket.
The more he thought of this, the more he marvelled at the wonderful stone, and considered what he should do with it. By-and-by, in order to find out what the negroes could do, he took the stone out of his pocket, and raised it again to his lips. The moment he did so, the negroes reappeared, and asked him again, "What do you demand, sir? ' He replied quickly, "I desire to have the finest clothes prepared for me, of which no two pieces must be made from the same kind of stuff." In a very few moments the negroes brought him the most beautiful clothes possible; so fine indeed were they all, that he could not decide which piece was the most beautiful. Then, dismissing the negroes, who disappeared in the stone, he dressed himself. He was admiring the fine fit of his clothes, when his master came to the door of his room, and, seeing a stranger in such an exceedingly rich dress, said humbly, "Excuse me, sir, where do you come from?"
"From not far off," the servant answered.
"Wait a moment, sir," said the innkeeper; "I will call my servant to take your orders;" and, going outside, he called loudly for his servant.
Meanwhile, the servant quickly threw off his fine clothes and gave them back to the negroes. Dressing himself hurriedly in his old clothes, he rushed out of his room. Then, finding the pantry open, he began to arrange the things.
His master found him employed in this way, and ordered him at once to leave that business, and to go into the house to make coffee for a distinguished guest who had that moment arrived.
The strange guest, however, was nowhere to be found. The innkeeper looked, with his servant, into all the rooms, but there was no sign of a guest anywhere. Then the master, greatly astonished, thought that some thieves had been playing him a trick, and bid the servant in future to look more sharply who came in and who went out of the inn. The servant listened quietly to his master; but, having once remembered his brothers, he had now an irresistible desire to look after them, and so he told the innkeeper that he had resolved to go away, and desired that he might be paid his wages.
The innkeeper was very sad at hearing this, and offered to raise his wages, and tried all means to keep him; but it was of no use. Seeing that the servant was resolved to go away, the master then paid him, and let him leave the inn. Then the eldest brother took with him his four animals - his bear, wolf, dog, and cat, and went away.