They all rose with the sun next morning. Philemon begged the visitors to stay a little till Baucis should milk the cow and bake some bread for breakfast. But the travelers seemed to be in a hurry and wished to start at once, and they asked Baucis and Philemon to go with them a short distance to show them the way.
So they all four set out together, and Mercury was so full of fun and laughter, and made them feel so happy and bright, that they would have been glad to keep him in their cottage every day and all day long.
“Ah me,” said Philemon, “if only our neighbors knew what a pleasure it was to be kind to strangers, they would tie up all their dogs and never allow the children to fling another stone.”
“It is a sin and shame for them to behave so,” said Baucis, “and I mean to go this very day and tell some of them how wicked they are.”
“I fear,” said Mercury, smiling, “that you will not find any of them at home.”
The old people looked at the elder traveler and his face had grown very grave and stern. “When men do not feel towards the poorest stranger as if he were a brother,” he said, in a deep, grave voice, “they are not worthy to remain on the earth, which was made just to be the home for the whole family of the human race of men and women and children.”
“And, by the bye,” said Mercury, with a look of fun and mischief in his eyes, “where is this village you talk about? I do not see anything of it.”
Philemon and his wife turned towards the valley, where at sunset only the day before they had seen the trees and gardens, and the houses, and the streets with the children playing in them. But there was no longer any sign of the village. There was not even a valley. Instead, they saw a broad lake which filled all the great basin from brim to brim, and whose waters glistened and sparkled in the morning sun.
The village that had been there only yesterday was now gone!
“Alas! what has become of our poor neighbors?” cried the kind-hearted old people.
“They are not men and women any longer,” answered the elder traveler, in a deep voice like distant thunder. “There was no beauty and no use in lives such as theirs, for they had no love for one another, and no pity in their hearts for those who were poor and weary. Therefore the lake that was here in the old, old days has flowed over them, and they will be men and women no more.”
“Yes,” said Mercury, with his mischievous smile, “these foolish people have all been changed into fishes because they had cold blood which never warmed their hearts, just as the fishes have.”
“As for you, good Philemon, and you, kind Baucis,” said the elder traveler, “you, indeed, gave a hearty welcome to the homeless strangers. You have done well, my dear old friends, and whatever wish you have most at heart will be granted.”
Philemon and Baucis looked at one another, and then I do not know which spoke, but it seemed as if the voice came from them both. “Let us live together while we live, and let us die together, at the same time, for we have always loved one another.”