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English tales

The King Of The Golden River; Or, The Black Brothers

Chapter One

A Strange Visitor Comes To Treasure Valley

In a mountainous part of Styria there was, in old time, a valley of the most surprising fertility. It was surrounded on all sides by steep and rocky mountains which were always covered with snow. From the peaks of these mountains streams of water poured constantly in rushing waterfalls. One of these fell westward over the face of a crag so high that, when the sun had set and all below was darkness, his beams still shone 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 rushed down the other side of the mountains and wound their way through broad plains and past busy cities. But the clouds were drawn so constantly to the snowy hills, and rested so softly in the valley, that in time of drought and heat, when all the country round was burned up, there was still rain in the little valley. 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 called the Treasure Valley.
The whole of this little valley belonged to three brothers called Schwartz, Hans, and Gluck. Schwartz and Hans, the two eider brothers, were very ugly men, with heavy eyebrows and small, dull eyes, which were always half shut, so that you could not see into them, yet you always thought 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 earn its food. They shot the blackbirds because they pecked the fruit; they poisoned the crickets for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and killed the locusts, which used to sing all summer in the 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. They generally managed to keep their corn 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 of bread to the poor. They never went to church, and were of so cruel and selfish a temper as to receive from everyone who knew them the nickname of the "Black Brothers."
The youngest brother, Gluck, was completely opposite in both appearance and character to his brothers. He was not above twelve years old, fair, blue-eyed, and kind to every living thing. He did not, of course, agree very well with his brothers, or rather, they did not agree with him. When there was any meat to roast, Gluck was usually given the task of watching it. And it was not often they had meat, for the brothers were just about as stingy with themselves as they were with other people. At other times he cleaned the shoes, the floors, and sometimes the plates.
Things went on in this manner for a long time. At last came a very wet summer, and everything went wrong in the country around. The hay had hardly been got in, when the haystacks were floated bodily down to the sea by a flood; the vines were cut to pieces with the hail; and the corn was all rotted. Only in the Treasure Valley all was safe. As it had rain 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 curses on the Black Brothers, who made them pay a terrible price. Some of the poor people, who could only beg, starved at their very door.
It was drawing toward winter, when one day the two elder brothers had gone out with their usual warning to little Gluck, who was left to turn 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. 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 have such a nice piece of mutton as this, and nobody else has 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 door, yet heavy and dull- more like a puff than a knock. "It must be the wind," said Gluck; "nobody else would dare to strike double knocks at our door."
No, it wasn't the wind; there it came again very hard. G1uck went to the window, opened it, and put his head out to see who it was.
It was the strangest-looking little gentleman he had ever seen in his life. He had a very large nose, slightly brass-colored, and his cheeks were very round and very red. His eyes twinkled merrily through long, silky eye-lashes, his mustaches curled twice around like a corkscrew on each side of his mouth, and his hair, of a curious mixed pepper-and-salt color, hung far over his shoulders. He was about four-feet-six in height, and wore a pointed cap almost as high as himself, decorated with a black feather some three feet long. Hanging from his shoulders was 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 dear out from the wearer's shoulders to about four times his own length.
Gluck was so perfectly paralyzed by the strange appearance of his visitor that he remained fixed without uttering a word, until the old gentleman 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."
And to speak truly, the little gentleman 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 mustaches the water was running into his pockets and out again like a mill stream.
"I beg pardon, sir," said Gluck; "I'm very sorry, but I really can't." "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, complainingly: "I want fire and shelter; and there's your great fire there, blazing, crackling, and dancing on the walls, with nobody to feel it. Let me in, I say; I only want to warm myself."
Gluck had had his head so long out of the window by this time that he began to feel it was really cold, and when he turned and saw the beautiful fire throwing long, bright tongues up the chimney, 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 very brown."
Then the old gentleman walked into the kitchen and sat himself down close to the fire, with the top of his cap reaching 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. He went on drip, drip, dripping among the ashes, and the fire fizzed, and sputtered, and began to look very black. Surely never was there such a cloak; every fold in it ran water like a little river.
"I beg pardon, sir," said Gluck at length, after watching for a quarter of an hour the water spreading in long streams over the floor, "may I take your cloak?"
"No thank you" said the old gentleman.
"Your cap, sir?"
"I am all right, thank you," said the old gentleman, rather gruffly.
"But-sir-I'm very sorry," said Gluck, "but-really, sir-you're-putting the fire out."
"It'll take longer to do the mutton, then," replied his visitor.
Gluck was very much puzzled by the behavior of his guest, who was sometimes bold and commanding and other times humble. He turned away for another five minutes.
"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 or today. Your brothers surely couldn't miss a bit from the knuckle!"
He spoke so sadly that his words quite melted Gluck's heart. "They promised me one slice today, 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 loud rap at the door. The old gentleman jumped up as if he had suddenly become too warm. Gluck fitted the slice into the mutton again, with every effort to make it look as if it had not been cut, and ran to open the door.
"What did you keep us waiting in the rain for?" Said Schwartz, throwing his umbrella in Gluck's face. "What for, indeed, you little rascal?" said Hans, giving Gluck a 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 again and again.
"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, "he was so very wet!"
"Who are you, sir?" demanded Schwartz, turning upon the old gentleman.
"What's your business?" snarled Hans.
"I am a poor old man, sir," the little gentleman began, "and I saw your fire through the window; so I 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 drying-house."
"It is a cold day to turn an old man out in, sir; look at my gray hairs! They hung down to his shoulders, as I told you before."
"There are enough of them to keep you warm," said Hans, "Walk!"
"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 fellows as you?"
"Why don't you sell your feather?" said Hans. "Out with, you!"
"A little bit," said the old gentleman.
"Be off!" said Schwartz.
"Pray, gentlemen-"
"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 spinning round and round till he fell into the corner. Then Schwartz was very angry, and ran at the old gentleman to turn him out; but he also had hardly touched him when he went after Hans and hit his head against the wall as he too tumbled into the corner.
Then the old gentleman spun himself round 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; gave an additional twist to his corkscrew mustaches, and replied with perfect coolness: "Gentlemen, I wish you a very good morning. At twelve o'clock tonight I'll call again. After such unkind treatment as I have just received in your home, 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 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 up 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," 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."
Such a night as it was! Howling wind and rushing rain! The brothers put up all the shutters and double-barred 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 so suddenly that the house shook 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 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, on which, as on a cushion, reclined the little old gentleman, cap and all. There was plenty of room for it now, for the roof was off.
"Sorry to disturb you," said their visitor. "I'm afraid your beds are damp. Perhaps you had better go to your brother's room; I've left the ceiling on there."
They required no second warning, but rushed into Gluck's room, wet through, and full 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 flood had swept away trees, crops, and cattle, and left in their place a waste of red sand and gray mud. The two brothers crept shivering and horror-stricken into the kitchen. The water had ruined 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:
Southwest Wind, Esquire

Chapter Two

How The Black Brothers Became ColdSmiths

Southwest Wind, Esquire, kept his word. After the important visit above described, he entered the Treasure Valley no more; and what was worse, neither did his relations, the other West Winds. 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 land 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 gave up their worthless farm 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.
"Suppose we turn goldsmiths?" said Schwartz to Hans, as they entered the large city.
"It is a good trade. We can put a great deal of copper into the gold without. anyone's ever finding it out."
So they hired a furnace and turned goldsmiths. But two things hurt their trade: first, that people did not like the coppered gold; second, that the two elder brothers, whenever they had sold anything, used to leave little Gluck to tend the furnace, and go and spend all the money for drink. So they melted all their gold without making money enough to buy any more. At last there was left only 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.
The mug was very odd 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. These wreaths flowed into a beard and whiskers which surrounded and decorated a very fierce little face, of the reddest gold imaginable, right in the front of the mug. 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, 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. He wandered sadly to the window, and sat down to catch the fresh evening air and escape the hot breath of the furnace.
Now this window gave a direct view of the range of mountains which, as I told you before, overhung the Treasure Valley, and more especially to the peak from which fell the Golden River. It was just at the close of the day; and Gluck saw through the window the rocks of the mountain tops all crimson and purple with the sunset. 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 crag to crag, with a broad, purple rainbow stretched across it.
"Ah!" said Cluck aloud, after he had looked at it for a while, "if that river were really all gold, what a nice thing it would be."
"No, it wouldn't, Cluck," said a clear voice, close at his ear.
"Bless me! what's that?" exclaimed Cluck, 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 did not speak, but he could not help thinking again that it would be very nice if the river were really all gold.
"Not at all, my boy," said the same voice, louder than before.
"Bless me!" said Cluck 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. Then the same voice struck again on his ear. It was singing now very merrily; no words, only a soft, running melody, something like that of a kettle when it is boiling. Gluck looked out of the window. No, it was certainly in the house. All at once it struck Gluck that it sounded louder near the furnace. He ran to the opening and looked in; yes, 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 for a minute or two with his hands up and his mouth open, when the singing stopped and the voice became clear and distinct.



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