Honest Fritz had worked hard all his life, but ill luck befell him; his cattle died, his barns were burned, and he lost almost all his money. So at last he said, u Before it is all gone I will buy goods, and go out into the world, and see whether I shall have the luck to mend my fortune."
The first place he came to was a village, where the boys were running about, crying and shouting. " What is the matter ?" asked he. "See here !" said they, "we have got a mouse that we make dance to please us. Do look at him; what a droll sight it is! how he jumps about! " But the man pitied the poor little thing, and said, "Let the poor mouse go, and I will give you money." So he gave them some money, and took the mouse and let it run: and it soon jumped into a hole that was close by, and was out of their reach.
Then he travelled on and came to another village: and there the boys had got an ass, that they made stand on its hind legs, and tumble and cut capers. Then they laughed and shouted, and gave the poor beast no rest.
So the good man gave them too some of his money, to let the poor thing go away in peace.
At the next village he came to, the young people were leading a bear, that had been taught to dance, and were plaguing the poor thing sadly. Then he gave them too some money, to let the beast go; and Master Bruin was very glad to get on his four feet, and seemed quite at his ease and happy again.
But now our traveller found that he had given away all the money he had in the world, and had not a shilling in his pocket. Then said he to himself, "The King has heaps of gold in his strong box that he never uses; I cannot die of hunger: so I hope I shall be forgiven if I borrow a little from him, and when I get rich again I will repay it all."
So he managed to get at the King's strong box, and took a very little money ; but as he came out the guards saw him, and said he was a thief, and took him to the iudge. The poor man told his story; but the judge said that sort of borrowing could not be suffered, and that those who took other people's money must be punished; so the end of his trial was that Fritz was found guilty, and doomed to be thrown into the lake, shut up in a box. The lid of the box was full of holes to let in air; and one jug of water and one loaf of bread were given him.
Whilst he was swimming along in the water very sorrowfully, he heard something nibbling and biting at the lock. All on a sudden it fell off, the lid flew open, and there stood his old friend the little mouse, who had done him this good turn. Then came the ass and the bear too, and pulled the box ashore; and all helped him because he had been kind to them.
But now they did not know what to do next, and began to lay their heads together; when on a sudden a wave threw on the shore a pretty white stone, that looked like an egg. Then the bear said, "That's a lucky thing! this is the wonderful stone; whoever has it needs only to wish, and everything that he wishes for comes to him at once." So Fritz went and picked up the stone, and wished for a palace and a garden, and a stud of horses; and his wish was fulfilled as soon as he had made it. And there he lived in his castle and garden, with fine stables and horses; and all was so grand and beautiful, that he never could wonder and gaze at it enough.
After some time some merchants passed by that way. "See," said they, "what a princely palace! The last time we were here it was nothing but a desert waste." They were very eager to know how all this had happened, and went in and asked the master of the palace how it had been so quickly raised. " I have done nothing myself," said he; "it is the wonderful stone that did all." "What a strange stone that must be!" said they. Then he asked them to walk in, and showed it to them.
They asked him whether he would sell it, and offered him all their goods for it; and the goods seemed so fine and costly, that he quite forgot that the stone would bring him in a moment a thousand better and richer things; and he agreed to make the bargain. Scarcely was the stone, however, out of his hands before all his riches were gone, and poor Fritz found himself sitting in his box in the water, with his jug of water and loaf of bread by his side.
However, his grateful friends, the mouse, the ass, and the bear, came quickly to help him; but the mouse found she could not nibble off the lock this time, for it was a great deal stronger than before. Then the bear said, "We must find the wonderful stone again, or all we can do will be fruitless."
The merchants, meantime, had taken up their abode in the palace; so away went the three friends, and when they came near, the bear said, "Mouse, go in and look through the keyhole, and see where the stone is kept: you are small, nobody will see you." The mouse did as she was told, but soon came back and said, " Bad news! I have looked in, and the stone hangs under the looking-glass by a red silk string, and on each side of it sits a great black cat with fiery eyes, watching it."
Then the others took counsel together, and said, "Go back again, and wait till the master of the palace is in bed asleep; then nip his nose and pull his hair." Away went the mouse, and did as they told her; and the master jumped up very angrily, and rubbed his nose, and cried, " Those rascally cats are good for nothing at all; they let the mice bite my very nose, and pull the hair off my head." Then he hunted them out of the room; and so the mouse had the best of the game.
Next night, as soon as the master was asleep, the mouse crept in again; and (the cats being gone) she nibbled at the red silken string to which the stone hung, till down it dropped. Then she rolled it along to the door; but when it got there the poor little mouse was quite tired, and said to the ass, "Put in your foot, and lift it over the threshold." This was soon done; and they took up the stone, and set off for the waterside. Then the ass said, " How shall we reach the box ?"
"That is easily managed, my friend," said the bear: "I can swim very well; and do you, donkey, put your fore feet over my shoulders;—mind and hold fast, and take the stone in your mouth;—as for you, mouse, you can sit in my ear."
Thus all was settled, and away they swam. After a time, Bruin began to brag and boast: " We are brave fellows, are not we?" said he; "what do you think, donkey ?" But the ass held his tongue, and said not a word. " Why don't you answer me ? " said the bear; " you must be an ill-mannered brute not to speak when you are spoken to." When the ass heard this, he could hold no longer; so he opened his mouth, and out dropped the wonderful stone. "I could not speak," said he; "did not you know I had the stone in my mouth? Now it is lost, and that is your fault." "Do but hold your tongue and be easy!" said the bear; "and let us think what is to be done now."
Then another council was held: and at last they called together all the frogs, their wives and families, kindred and friends; and said, " A great foe of yours is coming to eat you all up; but never mind, bring us up plenty of stones, and we will build a strong wall to guard you." The frogs hearing this were dreadfully frightened, and set to work, bringing up all the stones they could find. At last came a large fat frog, pulling along the wonderful stone by the silken string; and when the bear saw it he jumped for joy, and said, "Now we have found what we wanted." So he set the old frog free from his load, and told him to tell his friends they might now go home to their dinners as soon as they pleased.
Then the three friends swam off again for the box, and the lid flew open, and they found they were but just in time, for the bread was all eaten and the jug of water almost empty. But as soon as honest Fritz had the stone in his hand, he wished himself safe in his palace again; and in a moment he was there, with his garden, and his stables, and his horses; and his three faithful friends lived with him, and they all spent their time happily and merrily together as long as they lived. And thus the good man's kindness was rewarded; and so it ought, for—One good turn deserves another.