|The King of the Golden River|
|by John Ruskin|
|A fairy tale of what happened to two men who tried to get rich in evil ways and of how the fortune they sought came to their younger brother, whose kind and loving heart prompted him to right action. Widely regarded as a masterpiece of 19th century stories for children. Includes four black and white illustrations by Maria L. Kirk. Ages 8-10 |
HOW THE AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM OF THE BLACK BROTHERS WAS INTERFERED WITH BY SOUTHWEST WIND, ESQUIRE
 IN a secluded and mountainous part of Stiria there was, in
old time, a valley of the most surprising and luxuriant
fertility. It was surrounded, on all sides, by steep and rocky
mountains, rising into peaks, which were always covered with
snow and from which a number of torrents descended in
constant cataracts. One of these fell westward, over the face
of a crag so high, that, when the sun had set to everything
else, and all below was darkness, his beams still shone full
upon this waterfall, so that it looked like a shower of
gold. It was, therefore, called by the people of the
 neighborhood the Golden River. It was strange that none of
these streams fell into the valley itself. They all
descended on the other side of the mountains, and wound away
through broad plains and by populous cities. But the clouds
were drawn so constantly to the snowy hills, and rested so
softly in the circular hollow, that, in time of drought and
heat, when all the country round was burnt up, there was
still rain in the little valley; and its crops were so
heavy, and its hay so high, and its apples so red, and its
grapes so blue, and its wine so rich, and its honey so
sweet, that it was a marvel to everyone who beheld it, and
was commonly called the Treasure Valley.
The whole of this little valley belonged to three brothers,
called Schwartz, Hans, and Gluck. Schwartz and Hans, the two
elder brothers, were very ugly men, with overhanging
eyebrows and small, dull eyes which were always half shut,
so that you couldn't see into
 them, and always fancied they
saw very far into you. They lived by farming the Treasure
Valley, and very good farmers they were. They killed
everything that did not pay for its eating. They shot the
blackbirds, because they pecked the fruit; and killed the
hedgehogs, lest they should suck the cows; they poisoned the
crickets for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and smothered
the cicadas which used to sing all summer in the lime trees.
They worked their servants without any wages, till they would
not work any more, and then quarreled with them, and turned
them out-of-doors without paying them. It would have been
very odd, if, with such a farm and such a system of farming,
they hadn't got very rich; and very rich they did get. They
generally contrived to keep their corn by them till it was
very dear, and then sell it for twice its value; they had
heaps of gold lying about on their floors, yet it was never
known that they had
 given so much as a penny or a crust in
charity; they never went to mass, grumbled perpetually at
paying tithes; and were, in a word, of so cruel and grinding
a temper, as to receive from all those with whom they had any
dealings, the nickname of the "Black Brothers."
The youngest brother, Gluck, was as completely opposed, in
both appearance and character, to his seniors as could
possibly be imagined or desired. He was not above twelve
years old, fair, blue-eyed, and kind in temper to every
living thing. He did not, of course, agree particularly well
with his brothers, or rather, they did not agree with him.
He was usually appointed to the honorable office of
turnspit, when there was anything to roast, which was not
often; for, to do the brothers justice, they were hardly
less sparing upon themselves than upon other people. At
other times he used to clean the shoes, floors, and
sometimes the plates, occasionally getting
 what was left on
them, by way of encouragement, and a wholesome quantity of
dry blows, by way of education.
Things went on in this manner for a long time. At last came
a very wet summer, and everything went wrong in the country
round. The hay had hardly been got in when the haystacks
were floated bodily down to the sea by an inundation; the
vines were cut to pieces with the hail; the corn was all
killed by a black blight; only in the Treasure Valley, as
usual, all was safe. As it had rained when there was rain
nowhere else, so it had sun when there was sun nowhere else.
Everybody came to buy corn at the farm, and went away pouring
maledictions on the Black Brothers. They asked what they
liked and got it, except from the poor people, who could
only beg, and several of whom were starved at their very
door, without the slightest regard or notice.
It was drawing towards winter, and very
 cold weather, when
one day the two elder brothers had gone out, with their
usual warning to little Gluck, who was left to mind the
roast, that he was to let nobody in, and give nothing out.
Gluck sat down quite close to the fire, for it was raining
very hard, and the kitchen walls were by no means dry or
comfortable-looking. He turned and turned, and the roast got
nice and brown. "What a pity," thought Gluck, "my brothers
never ask anybody to dinner. I'm sure, when they've got such
a nice piece of mutton as this, and nobody else has got so
much as a piece of dry bread, it would do their hearts good
to have somebody to eat it with them."
Just as he spoke there came a double knock at the house
door, yet heavy and dull, as though the knocker had been
tied up—more like a puff than a knock.
"It must be the wind," said Gluck; "nobody else would
venture to knock double knocks at our door."
 No, it wasn't the wind; there it came again very hard, and
what was particularly astounding, the knocker seemed to be
in a hurry and not to be in the least afraid of the
consequences. Gluck went to the window, opened it, and put
his head out to see who it was.
It was the most extraordinary-looking little gentleman that he
had ever seen in his life. He had a very large nose,
slightly brass-colored; his cheeks were very round, and very
red, and might have warranted a supposition that he had been
blowing a refractory fire for the last eight-and-forty
hours; his eyes twinkled merrily through long silky
eyelashes, his moustaches curled twice round like a corkscrew
on each side of his mouth, and his hair, of a curious mixed
pepper-and-salt color, descended far over his shoulders. He
was about four feet six in height, and wore a conical-pointed
cap of nearly the same altitude, decorated with a black
feather some three feet
 long. His doublet was prolonged
behind into something resembling a violent exaggeration of
what is now termed a "swallow-tail," but was much obscured by
the swelling folds of an enormous black, glossy-looking
cloak, which must have been very much too long in calm
weather, as the wind, whistling round the old house, carried
it clear out from the wearer's shoulders to about four times
his own length.
Gluck was so perfectly paralyzed by the singular appearance
of his visitor, that he remained fixed without uttering a
word, until the old gentleman, having performed another and
a more energetic concerto on the knocker, turned round to
look after his fly-away cloak. In so doing he caught sight of
Gluck's little yellow head jammed in the window, with his
mouth and eyes very wide open indeed.
"Hollo!" said the little gentleman; "that's not the way to
answer the door; I'm wet; let me in."
 To do the little gentleman justice, he was wet. His feather
hung down between his legs like a beaten puppy's tail,
dripping like an umbrella; and from the ends of his
moustaches the water was running into his waistcoat pockets
and out again like a mill stream.
TO DO THE LITTLE GENTLEMAN JUSTICE HE WAS WET
"I beg pardon, sir," said Gluck, "I'm very sorry, but I
"Can't what?" said the old gentleman.
"I can't let you in, sir—I can't, indeed; my brothers would
beat me to death, sir, if I thought of such a thing. What do
you want, sir?"
"Want?" said the old gentleman petulantly, "I want fire and
shelter; and there's your great fire there blazing,
crackling, and dancing on the wall, with nobody to feel it.
Let me in, I say; I only want to warm myself."
Gluck had had his head, by this time, so long out of the
window that he began to feel it was really unpleasantly
cold; and when he
 turned and saw the beautiful fire rustling
and roaring and throwing long bright tongues up the
chimney, as if it were licking its chops at the savory smell
of the leg of mutton, his heart melted within him that it
should be burning away for nothing. "He does look very wet,"
said little Gluck; "I'll just let him in for a quarter of an
hour." Round he went to the door and opened it; and as the
little gentleman walked in there came a gust of wind
through the house that made the old chimneys totter.
"That's a good boy," said the little gentleman. "Never mind
your brothers. I'll talk to them."
"Pray, sir, don't do any such thing," said Gluck. "I can't
let you stay till they come; they'd be the death of me."
"Dear me," said the old gentleman, "I'm very sorry to hear
that. How long may I stay?"
"Only till the mutton's done, sir," replied Gluck, "and it's
 Then the old gentleman walked into the kitchen and sat
himself down on the hob, with the top of his cap
accommodated up the chimney, for it was a great deal too
high for the roof.
"You'll soon dry there, sir," said Gluck, and sat down again
to turn the mutton. But the old gentleman did not dry there,
but went on drip, drip, dripping among the cinders, and the
fire fizzed and sputtered and began to look very black and
uncomfortable; never was such a cloak; every fold in it ran
like a gutter.
"YOU'LL SOON DRY THERE, SIR," SAID GLUCK
"I beg pardon, sir," said Gluck at length, after watching
the water spreading in long, quicksilver-like streams over
the floor for a quarter of an hour; "mayn't I take your
"No, thank you," said the old gentleman.
"Your cap, sir?"
"I am all right, thank you," said the old gentleman rather
 "But—sir—I'm very sorry," said Gluck hesitatingly;
"but—really, sir—you're putting the fire out."
"It'll take longer to do the mutton then," replied his
Gluck was very much puzzled by the behavior of his guest; it
was such a strange mixture of coolness and humility. He
turned away at the string meditatively for another five
"That mutton looks very nice," said the old gentleman at
length. "Can't you give me a little bit?"
"Impossible, sir," said Gluck.
"I'm very hungry," continued the old gentleman; "I've had
nothing to eat yesterday nor to-day. They surely couldn't
miss a bit from the knuckle!"
He spoke in so very melancholy a tone that it quite melted
Gluck's heart. "They promised me one slice to-day, sir,"
said he; "I can give you that, but not a bit more."
 "That's a good boy," said the old gentleman again.
Then Gluck warmed a plate and sharpened a knife. "I don't
care if I do get beaten for it," thought he. Just as he had
cut a large slice out of the mutton there came a tremendous
rap at the door. The old gentleman jumped off the hob, as if
it had suddenly become inconveniently warm. Gluck fitted the
slice into the mutton again, with desperate efforts at
exactitude, and ran to open the door.
"What did you keep us waiting in the rain for?" said
Schwartz, as he walked in, throwing his umbrella in Gluck's
"Ay! what for, indeed, you little vagabond?" said Hans,
administering an educational box on the ear, as he followed
his brother into the kitchen.
"Bless my soul!" said Schwartz when he opened the door.
"Amen," said the little gentleman, who had taken his cap off
and was standing in the
 middle of the kitchen, bowing with
the utmost possible velocity.
"Who's that?" said Schwartz, catching up a rolling-pin, and
turning to Gluck with a fierce frown.
"I don't know, indeed, brother," said Gluck in great terror.
"How did he get in?" roared Schwartz.
"My dear brother," said Gluck deprecatingly, "he was so very
The rolling-pin was descending on Gluck's head; but, at the
instant, the old gentleman interposed his conical cap, on
which it crashed with a shock that shook the water out of it
all over the room. What was very odd, the rolling-pin no
sooner touched the cap than it flew out of Schwartz's hand,
spinning like a straw in a high wind, and fell into the
corner at the further end of the room.
"Who are you, sir?" demanded Schwartz, turning upon him.
 "What's your business?" snarled Hans.
"I'm a poor old man, sir," the little gentleman began very
modestly, "and I saw your fire through the window and begged
shelter for a quarter of an hour."
"Have the goodness to walk out again, then," said Schwartz.
"We've quite enough water in our kitchen, without making it a
"It is a cold day to turn an old man out, sir; look at my
gray hairs." They hung down to his shoulders, as I told you
"Ay!" said Hans; "there are enough of them to keep you
"I'm very, very hungry, sir; couldn't you spare me a bit of
bread before I go?"
"Bread, indeed!" said Schwartz; "do you suppose we've
nothing to do with our bread but to give it to such
red-nosed fellows as you?"
"Why don't you sell your feather?" said Hans, sneeringly.
"Out with you!"
 "A little bit," said the old gentleman.
"Be off!" said Schwartz.
"Off, and be hanged!" cried Hans, seizing him by the collar.
But he had no sooner touched the old gentleman's collar than
away he went after the rolling-pin, spinning round and round,
till he fell into the corner on the top of it. Then Schwartz
was very angry, and ran at the old gentleman to turn him out;
but he also had hardly touched him, when away he went after
Hans and the rolling-pin, and hit his head against the wall
as he tumbled into the corner. And so there they lay, all
Then the old gentleman spun himself round with velocity in
the opposite direction; continued to spin until his long
cloak was all wound neatly about him; clapped his cap on his
head, very much on one side (for it could not stand upright
without going through the ceiling), gave an additional twist
cork-  screw moustaches, and replied with perfect
coolness: "Gentlemen, I wish you a very good morning. At
twelve o'clock tonight, I'll call again; after such a refusal
of hospitality as I have just experienced, you will not be
surprised if that visit is the last I ever pay you."
"If ever I catch you here again," muttered Schwartz, coming,
half frightened, out of the corner—but, before he could
finish his sentence, the old gentleman had shut the house
door behind him with a great bang; and there drove past the
window, at the same instant, a wreath of ragged cloud, that
whirled and rolled away down the valley in all manner of
shapes; turning over and over in the air; and melting away at
last in a gush of rain.
"A very pretty business, indeed, Mr. Gluck!" said Schwartz.
"Dish the mutton, sir. If ever I catch you at such a trick
again—bless me, why the mutton's been cut!"
"You promised me one slice, brother, you know," said Gluck.
"Oh! and you were cutting it hot, I suppose, and going to
catch all the gravy. It'll be long before I promise you such
a thing again. Leave the room, sir; and have the kindness to
wait in the coal-cellar till I call you."
Gluck left the room melancholy enough. The brothers ate as
much mutton as they could, locked the rest in the cupboard,
and proceeded to get very drunk after dinner.
Such a night as it was! Howling wind, and rushing rain,
without intermission. The brothers had just sense enough
left to put up all the shutters and double bar the door,
before they went to bed. They usually slept in the same
room. As the clock struck twelve, they were both awakened by
a tremendous crash. Their door burst open with a violence
that shook the house from top to bottom.
"What's that?" cried Schwartz, starting up in his bed.
"Only I," said the little gentleman.
The two brothers sat up on their bolster, and stared into the
darkness. The room was full of water, and by a misty
moonbeam, which found its way through a hole in the shutter,
they could see, in the midst of it, an enormous foam globe,
spinning round, and bobbing up and down like a cork, on
which, as on a most luxurious cushion, reclined the little
old gentleman, cap and all. There was plenty of room for it
now, for the roof was off.
"Sorry to incommode you," said their visitor, ironically.
"I'm afraid your beds are dampish; perhaps you had better go
to your brother's room; I've left the ceiling on there."
They required no second admonition, but rushed into Gluck's
room, wet through, and in an agony of terror.
"You'll find my card on the kitchen table," the old
gentleman called after them. "Remember, the last visit."
"Pray Heaven it may!" said Schwartz, shuddering. And the
foam globe disappeared.
Dawn came at last, and the two brothers looked out of
Gluck's little window in the morning. The Treasure Valley
was one mass of ruin and desolation. The inundation had
swept away trees, crops, and cattle, and left, in their stead,
a waste of red sand and gray mud. The two brothers crept
shivering and horror-struck into the kitchen. The water had
gutted the whole first-floor; corn, money, almost every
movable thing had been swept away, and there was left only
a small white card on the kitchen table. On it, in large,
breezy, long-legged letters, were engraved the words:
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