|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 |
OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE THREE BROTHERS AFTER A VISIT OF THE SOUTHWEST WIND, ESQUIRE; AND HOW LITTLE GLUCK HAD AN INTERVIEW WITH THE KING OF THE GOLDEN RIVER
 SOUTH-WEST WIND, ESQUIRE, was as good as his word. After the momentous visit above
related, he entered the Treasure Valley no more; and, what
was worse, he had so much influence with his relations, the
West Winds in general, and used it so effectually, that they
all adopted a similar line of conduct. So no rain fell in
the valley from one year's end to another. Though everything
remained green and flourishing in the plains below, the
inheritance of the three brothers was a desert. What had
once been the richest soil in the kingdom became a shifting
heap of red sand; and the brothers, unable longer to contend
 adverse skies, abandoned their valueless patrimony
in despair, to seek some means of gaining a livelihood among
the cities and people of the plains. All their money was
gone, and they had nothing left but some curious
old-fashioned pieces of gold plate, the last remnants of
their ill-gotten wealth.
"Suppose we turn goldsmiths?" said Schwartz to Hans, as they
entered the large city. "It is a good knave's trade; we can
put a great deal of copper into the gold, without anyone's
finding it out."
The thought was agreed to be a very good one; they hired a
furnace, and turned goldsmiths. But two slight circumstances
affected their trade: the first, that people did not approve
of the coppered gold; the second, that the two elder
brothers, whenever they had sold anything, used to leave
little Gluck to mind the furnace, and go and drink out the
money in the ale-house next door. So they melted all their
gold, without making money enough to buy more, and were at
last reduced to one large drinking-mug, which an uncle of
his had given to little Gluck, and which he was very fond of,
and would not have parted with for the world; though he
never drank anything out of it but milk and water. The mug
was a very odd mug to look at. The handle was formed of two
wreaths of flowing golden hair, so finely spun that it
looked more like silk than metal, and these wreaths
descended into, and mixed with, a beard and whiskers, of the
same exquisite workmanship, which surrounded and decorated a
very fierce little face, of the reddest gold imaginable,
right in the front of the mug, with a pair of eyes in it
which seemed to command its whole circumference. It was
impossible to drink out of the mug without being subjected
to an intense gaze out of the side of these eyes; and
Schwartz positively averred, that once, after emptying it
full of Rhenish seventeen
 times, he had seen them wink!
When it came to the mug's turn to be made into spoons, it
half broke poor little Gluck's heart; but the brothers only
laughed at him, tossed the mug into the melting-pot, and
staggered out to the ale-house; leaving him, as usual, to
pour the gold into bars when it was all ready.
When they were gone, Gluck took a farewell look at his old
friend in the melting-pot. The flowing hair was all gone;
nothing remained but the red nose, and the sparkling eyes,
which looked more malicious than ever. "And no wonder,"
thought Gluck, "after being treated in that way." He
sauntered disconsolately to the window, and sat himself down
to catch the fresh evening air, and escape the hot breath of
the furnace. Now this window commanded a direct view of the
range of mountains, which, as I told you before, overhung the
Treasure Valley, and more especially of the peak from which
fell the Golden River.
 It was just at the close of the day,
and, when Gluck sat down at the window, he saw the rocks of
the mountain tops, all crimson and purple with the sunset;
and there were bright tongues of fiery cloud burning and
quivering about them; and the river, brighter than all,
fell, in a waving column of pure gold, from precipice to
precipice, with the double arch of a broad purple rainbow
stretched across it, flushing and fading alternately in the
wreaths of spray.
"Ah!" said Gluck aloud, after he had looked at it for a
little while, "if that river were really all gold, what a
nice thing it would be."
"No it wouldn't, Gluck," said a clear metallic voice
close at his ear.
"Bless me! what's that?" exclaimed Gluck, jumping up. There
was nobody there. He looked round the room, and under the
table, and a great many times behind him, but there
 was certainly nobody there, and he sat down again at the window.
This time he didn't speak, but he couldn't help thinking
again that it would be very convenient if the river were
really all gold.
"Not at all, my boy," said the same voice, louder than
"Bless me!" said Gluck again, "what is that?" He looked
again into all the corners and cupboards, and then began
turning round and round as fast as he could, in the middle
of the room, thinking there was somebody behind him, when
the same voice struck again on his ear. It was singing now
very merrily, "Lala-lira-la"; no words, only a soft
running effervescent melody, something like that of a
kettle on the boil. Gluck looked out of the window. No, it
was certainly in the house. Upstairs, and downstairs. No, it
was certainly in that very room, coming in quicker time, and
clearer notes, every moment: "Lala-lira-la." All at
 once it struck Gluck, that it sounded louder near the furnace. He ran
to the opening and looked in; yes, he saw right, it seemed
to be coming not only out of the furnace, but out of the pot.
He uncovered it, and ran back in a great fright, for the pot
was certainly singing. He stood in the farthest corner of
the room, with his hands up, and his mouth open, for a minute
or two, when the singing stopped, and the voice became clear,
"Hollo!" said the voice.
Gluck made no answer.
"Hollo! Gluck, my boy," said the pot again.
Gluck summoned all his energies, walked straight up to the
crucible, drew it out of the furnace, and looked in. The
gold was all melted, and its surface as smooth and polished
as a river; but instead of reflecting little Gluck's head,
as he looked in, he saw, meeting his glance, from beneath the
gold, the red nose
 and sharp eyes of his old friend of the
mug, a thousand times redder and sharper than ever he had
seen them in his life.
"Come, Gluck, my boy," said the voice out of the pot again,
"I'm all right; pour me out."
But Gluck was too much astonished to do anything of the
"Pour me out, I say," said the voice rather gruffly.
Still Gluck couldn't move.
"Will you pour me out?" said the voice, passionately;
"I'm too hot."
By a violent effort, Gluck recovered the use of his limbs,
took hold of the crucible, and sloped it, so as to pour out
the gold. But instead of a liquid stream there came out,
first, a pair of pretty little yellow legs, then some coat
tails, then a pair of arms stuck akimbo, and, finally the
well-known head of his friend the mug; all which articles,
uniting as they rolled out, stood up energetically on the
 in the shape of a little golden dwarf, about a foot and
a half high.
"That's right!" said the dwarf, stretching out first his
legs, and then his arms, and then shaking his head up and
down, and as far round as it would go, for five minutes,
without stopping; apparently with the view of ascertaining
if he were quite correctly put together, while Gluck stood
contemplating him in speechless amazement. He was dressed in
a slashed doublet of spun gold, so fine in its texture, that
the prismatic colors gleamed over it, as if on a surface of
mother-of-pearl; and, over this brilliant doublet, his hair
and beard fell full half-way to the ground, in waving curls,
so exquisitely delicate, that Gluck could hardly tell where
they ended; they seemed to melt into air. The features of
the face, however, were by no means finished with the same
delicacy; they were rather coarse, slightly inclining to
coppery in complexion, and
indica-  tive, in expression, of a
very pertinacious and intractable disposition in their small
proprietor. When the dwarf had finished his
self-examination, he turned his small sharp eyes full on
Gluck, and stared at him deliberately for a minute or two.
"No, it wouldn't, Gluck, my boy," said the little man.
This was certainly rather an abrupt and unconnected mode of
commencing conversation. It might indeed be supposed to
refer to the course of Gluck's thoughts, which had first
produced the dwarf's observations out of the pot; but
whatever it referred to, Gluck had no inclination to dispute
"Wouldn't it, sir?" said Gluck very mildly and submissively
"No," said the dwarf, conclusively. "No, it wouldn't." And
with that the dwarf pulled his cap hard over his brows, and
took two turns of three feet long, up and down the room,
lifting his legs up very high, and setting them
 down very hard. This pause gave time for Gluck to collect
a little, and, seeing no great reason to view his diminutive
visitor with dread, and feeling his curiosity overcome his
amazement, he ventured on a question of peculiar delicacy.
"Pray, sir," said Gluck, rather hesitatingly, "were you my
On which the little man turned sharp round, walked straight
up to Gluck, and drew himself up to his full height. "I,"
said the little man, "am the King of the Golden River."
Whereupon he turned about again, and took two more turns,
some six feet long, in order to allow time for the
consternation which this announcement produced in his
auditor to evaporate. After which he again walked up to
Gluck, and stood still, as if expecting some comment on his
Gluck determined to say something at all
 events. "I hope
your Majesty is very well," said Gluck.
"Listen!" said the little man, deigning no reply to this
polite inquiry. "I am the King of what you mortals call the
Golden River. The shape you saw me in was owing to the
malice of a stronger king, from whose enchantments you have
this instant freed me. What I have seen of you, and your
conduct to your wicked brothers renders me willing to serve
you; therefore attend to what I tell you. Whoever shall
climb to the top of that mountain from which you see the
Golden River issue, and shall cast into the stream at its
source three drops of holy water, for him, and for him only,
the river shall turn to gold. But no one failing in his
first, can succeed in a second, attempt; and if anyone shall
cast unholy water into the river, it will overwhelm him, and
he will become a black stone." So saying, the King of the
Golden River turned away, and
deliberately walked into the
center of the hottest flame of the furnace. His figure
became red, white, transparent, dazzling,—a blaze of
intense light—rose, trembled and disappeared. The King
of the Golden River had evaporated.
"Oh!" cried poor Gluck, running to look up the chimney after
him; "oh, dear, dear, dear me! My mug! my mug! my mug!"
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