The King of the Golden River, by John Ruskin

Chapter II

Of the Proceedings of the Three Brothers after the Visit of Southwest Wind, Esquire; and how Little Gluck had an Interview with the King of the Golden River

Initial, S

Southwest 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 with the 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 alehouse 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 alehouse, 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 before.

“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 and pronunciative.

“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 kind.

“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 floor 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 halfway 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 indicative, 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 the dictum.

“Wouldn’t it, sir?” said Gluck very mildly and submissively indeed.

“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 his thoughts 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 mug?”

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 communication.

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, “O dear, dear, dear me! My mug! my mug! my mug!”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33