The King of the Golden River, by John Ruskin

Chapter V

How Little Gluck set off on an Expedition to the Golden River, and how he prospered therein, with other matters of interest

Initial, W

When Gluck found that Schwartz did not come back, he was very sorry and did not know what to do. He had no money and was obliged to go and hire himself again to the goldsmith, who worked him very hard and gave him very little money. So, after a month or two, Gluck grew tired and made up his mind to go and try his fortune with the Golden River. “The little king looked very kind,” thought he. “I don’t think he will turn me into a black stone.” So he went to the priest, and the priest gave him some holy water as soon as he asked for it. Then Gluck took some bread in his basket, and the bottle of water, and set off very early for the mountains.

If the glacier had occasioned a great deal of fatigue in his brothers, it was twenty times worse for him, who was neither so strong nor so practiced on the mountains. He had several very bad falls, lost his basket and bread, and was very much frightened at the strange noises under the ice. He lay a long time to rest on the grass, after he had got over, and began to climb the hill just in the hottest part of the day. When he had climbed for an hour, he got dreadfully thirsty and was going to drink like his brothers, when he saw an old man coming down the path above him, looking very feeble and leaning on a staff. “Why son,” said the old man, “I am faint with thirst; give me some of that water.” Then Gluck looked at him, and when he saw that he was pale and weary, he gave him the water. “Only pray don’t drink it all,” said Gluck. But the old man drank a great deal and gave him back the bottle two thirds empty. Then he bade him good speed, and Gluck went on again merrily. And the path became easier to his feet, and two or three blades of grass appeared upon it, and some grasshoppers began singing on the bank beside it, and Gluck thought he had never heard such merry singing.

Then he went on for another hour, and the thirst increased on him so that he thought he should be forced to drink. But as he raised the flask he saw a little child lying panting by the roadside, and it cried out piteously for water. Then Gluck struggled with himself and determined to bear the thirst a little longer; and he put the bottle to the child’s lips, and it drank it all but a few drops. Then it smiled on him and got up and ran down the hill; and Gluck looked after it till it became as small as a little star, and then turned and began climbing again. And then there were all kinds of sweet flowers growing on the rocks — bright green moss with pale pink, starry flowers, and soft belled gentians, more blue than the sky at its deepest, and pure white transparent lilies. And crimson and purple butterflies darted hither and thither, and the sky sent down such pure light that Gluck had never felt so happy in his life.

Yet, when he had climbed for another hour, his thirst became intolerable again; and when he looked at his bottle, he saw that there were only five or six drops left in it, and he could not venture to drink. And as he was hanging the flask to his belt again, he saw a little dog lying on the rocks, gasping for breath — just as Hans had seen it on the day of his ascent. And Gluck stopped and looked at it, and then at the Golden River, not five hundred yards above him; and he thought of the dwarf’s words, that no one could succeed except in his first attempt; and he tried to pass the dog, but it whined piteously and Gluck stopped again. “Poor beastie,” said Gluck, “it’ll be dead when I come down again, if I don’t help it.” Then he looked closer and closer at it, and its eye turned on him so mournfully that he could not stand it. “Confound the king and his gold too,” said Gluck, and he opened the flask and poured all the water into the dog’s mouth.

The dog sprang up and stood on its hind legs. Its tail disappeared; its ears became long, longer, silky, golden; its nose became very red; its eyes became very twinkling; in three seconds the dog was gone, and before Gluck stood his old acquaintance, the King of the Golden River.

“Thank you,” said the monarch. “But don’t be frightened; it’s all right”— for Gluck showed manifest symptoms of consternation at this unlooked-for reply to his last observation. “Why didn’t you come before,” continued the dwarf, “instead of sending me those rascally brothers of yours, for me to have the trouble of turning into stones? Very hard stones they make, too.”

“O dear me!” said Gluck, “have you really been so cruel?”

“Cruel!” said the dwarf; “they poured unholy water into my stream. Do you suppose I’m going to allow that?”

“Why,” said Gluck, “I am sure, sir — your Majesty, I mean — they got the water out of the church font.”

“Very probably,” replied the dwarf, “but” (and his countenance grew stern as he spoke) “the water which has been refused to the cry of the weary and dying is unholy, though it had been blessed by every saint in heaven; and the water which is found in the vessel of mercy is holy, though it had been defiled with corpses.”

So saying, the dwarf stooped and plucked a lily that grew at his feet. On its white leaves there hung three drops of clear dew. And the dwarf shook them into the flask which Gluck held in his hand. “Cast these into the river,” he said, “and descend on the other side of the mountains into the Treasure Valley. And so good speed.”

As he spoke the figure of the dwarf became indistinct. The playing colors of his robe formed themselves into a prismatic mist of dewy light; he stood for an instant veiled with them as with the belt of a broad rainbow. The colors grew faint; the mist rose into the air; the monarch had evaporated.

And Gluck climbed to the brink of the Golden River, and its waves were as clear as crystal and as brilliant as the sun. And when he cast the three drops of dew into the stream, there opened where they fell a small, circular whirlpool, into which the waters descended with a musical noise.

Gluck stood watching it for some time, very much disappointed, because not only the river was not turned into gold, but its waters seemed much diminished in quantity. Yet he obeyed his friend the dwarf and descended the other side of the mountains towards the Treasure Valley; and as he went he thought he heard the noise of water working its way under the ground. And when he came in sight of the Treasure Valley, behold, a river, like the Golden River, was springing from a new cleft of the rocks above it and was flowing in innumerable streams among the dry heaps of red sand.

And as Gluck gazed, fresh grass sprang beside the new streams, and creeping plants grew and climbed among the moistening soil. Young flowers opened suddenly along the riversides, as stars leap out when twilight is deepening, and thickets of myrtle and tendrils of vine cast lengthening shadows over the valley as they grew. And thus the Treasure Valley became a garden again, and the inheritance which had been lost by cruelty was regained by love.

And Gluck went and dwelt in the valley, and the poor were never driven from his door, so that his barns became full of corn and his house of treasure. And for him the river had, according to the dwarf’s promise, become a river of gold.

And to this day the inhabitants of the valley point out the place where the three drops of holy dew were cast into the stream, and trace the course of the Golden River under the ground until it emerges in the Treasure Valley. And at the top of the cataract of the Golden River are still to be seen two black stones, round which the waters howl mournfully every day at sunset; and these stones are still called by the people of the valley

THE BLACK BROTHERS

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