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- Journeys Through Bookland V2 - 10/71 -
tranquility did these roses seem to be.
But Midas knew a way to make them far more precious, according to his way of thinking, than roses had ever been before. So he took great pains in going from bush to bush, and exercised his magic touch most indefatigably, until every individual flower and bud, and even the worms at the heart of some of them, were changed to gold. By the time this good work was completed, King Midas was summoned to breakfast, and, as the morning air had given him an excellent appetite, he made haste back to the palace.
What was usually a king's breakfast in the days of Midas I really do not know and cannot stop now to investigate. To the best of my belief, however, on this particular morning the breakfast consisted of hot cakes, some nice little brook trout, roasted potatoes, fresh boiled eggs, and coffee for King Midas himself, and a bowl of bread and milk for his daughter Marygold. At all events, this is a breakfast fit to set before a king, and, whether he had it or not, King Midas could not have had a better.
Little Marygold had not yet made her appearance. Her father ordered her to be called, and, seating himself at the table, awaited the child's coming in order to begin his own breakfast. To do Midas justice, he really loved his daughter, and loved her so much the more this morning on account of the good fortune which had befallen him. It was not a great while before he heard her coming along the passageway crying bitterly. This circumstance surprised him, because Marygold was one of the cheerfulest little people whom you would see in a summer's day, and hardly shed a thimbleful of tears in a twelvemonth. When Midas heard her sobs he determined to put little Marygold into better spirits by an agreeable surprise; so, leaning across the table, he touched his daughter's bowl (which was a china one with pretty figures all around it) and transmuted it to gleaming gold.
Meanwhile, Marygold slowly and disconsolately opened the door and showed herself with her apron at her eyes, still sobbing as if her heart would break.
"How now, my little lady!" cried Midas. "What is the matter with you this morning?"
Marygold, without taking the apron from her eyes, held out her hand, in which was one of the roses which Midas had so recently transmuted.
"Beautiful!" exclaimed her father. "And what is there in this magnificent golden rose to make you cry?"
"Ah, dear father!" answered the child, as well as her sobs would let her, "it is not beautiful, but the ugliest flower that ever grew. As soon as I was dressed I ran into the garden to gather some roses for you, because I know you like them, and like them the better when gathered by your little daughter. But--oh dear! dear me!--what do you think has happened? Such a misfortune! All the beautiful roses, that smelled so sweetly and had so many lovely blushes, are blighted and spoiled! They are grown quite yellow, as you see this one, and have no longer any fragrance. What can be the matter with them?"
"Pooh, my dear little girl! pray don't cry about it!" said Midas, who was ashamed to confess that he himself had wrought the change which so greatly afflicted her. "Sit down and eat your bread and milk. You will find it easy enough to exchange a golden rose like that, which will last hundreds of years, for an ordinary one, which would wither in a day."
"I don't care for such roses as this!" cried Marygold, tossing it contemptuously away. "It has no smell, and the hard petals prick my nose."
The child now sat down to table, but was so occupied with her grief for the blighted roses that she did not even notice the wonderful transmutation of her china bowl. Perhaps this was all the better, for Marygold was accustomed to take pleasure in looking at the queer figures and strange trees and houses that were painted on the circumference of the bowl, and these ornaments were now entirely lost in the yellow hue of the metal.
Midas, meanwhile, had poured out a cup of coffee; and, as a matter of course, the coffeepot, whatever metal it may have been when he took it up, was gold when he set it down. He thought to himself that it was rather an extravagant style of splendor, in a king of his simple habits, to breakfast off a service of gold, and began to be puzzled with the difficulty of keeping his treasures safe. The cupboard and the kitchen would no longer be a secure place of deposit for articles so valuable as golden bowls and coffeepots.
Amid these thoughts he lifted a spoonful of coffee to his lips, and sipping it, was astonished to perceive that the instant his lips touched the liquid it became molten gold, and the next moment hardened into a lump.
"Ha!" exclaimed Midas, rather aghast.
"What is the matter, father?" asked little Marygold, gazing at him with the tears still standing in her eyes.
"Nothing, child, nothing," said Midas. "Eat your milk before it gets quite cold."
He took one of the nice little trouts on his plate, and, by way of experiment, touched its tail with his finger. To his horror, it was immediately transmuted from an admirably fried brook trout into a gold fish, though not one of those gold fishes which people often keep in glass globes as ornaments for the parlor. No; but it was really a metallic fish, and looked as if it had been very cunningly made by the nicest goldsmith in the world. Its little bones were now golden wires, its fins and tail were thin plates of gold, and there were the marks of the fork in it, and all the delicate, frothy appearance of a nicely fried fish exactly imitated in metal. A very pretty piece of work, as you may suppose; only King Midas, just at that moment, would much rather have had a real trout in his dish than this elaborate and valuable imitation of one.
"I don't quite see," thought he to himself, "how I am to get any breakfast."
He took one of the smoking hot cakes, and had scarcely broken it when, to his cruel mortification, though a moment before it had been of the whitest wheat, it assumed the yellow hue of Indian meal. To say the truth? if it had really been a hot Indian cake Midas would have prized it a good deal more than he now did, when its solidity and increased weight made him too bitterly sensible that it was gold. Almost in despair, he helped himself to a boiled egg, which immediately underwent a change similar to those of the trout and the cake. The egg, indeed, might have been mistaken for one of those which the famous goose in the storybook was in the habit of laying; but King Midas was the only goose that had had anything to do with the matter.
"Well, this is a quandary!" thought he, leaning back in his chair and looking quite enviously at little Marygold, who was now eating her bread and milk with great satisfaction. "Such a costly breakfast before me, and nothing that can be eaten!"
Hoping that, by dint of great dispatch, he might avoid what he now felt to be a considerable inconvenience, King Midas next snatched a hot potato, and attempted to cram it into his mouth and swallow it in a hurry. But the Golden Touch was too nimble for him. He found his mouth full, not of mealy potato, but of solid metal, which so burned his tongue that he roared aloud, and, jumping up from the table, began to dance and stamp about the room both with pain and affright.
"Father, dear father!" cried little Marygold, who was a very affectionate child, "pray what is the matter? Have you burned your mouth?"
"Ah, dear child," groaned Midas dolefully, "I don't know what is to become of your poor father."
And truly, my dear little folks, did you ever hear of such a pitiable case in all your lives? Here was literally the richest breakfast that could be set before a king, and its very richness made it absolutely good for nothing. The poorest laborer sitting down to his crust of bread and cup of water was far better off than King Midas, whose delicate food was really worth its weight in gold. And what was to be done? Already, at breakfast, Midas was excessively hungry. Would he be less so by dinner-time? And how ravenous would be his appetite for supper, which must undoubtedly consist of the same sort of indigestible dishes as those now before him! How many days, think you, would he survive a continuance of this rich fare?
These reflections so troubled wise King Midas that he began to doubt whether, after all, riches are the one desirable thing in the world, or even the most desirable. But this was only a passing thought. So fascinated was Midas with the glitter of the yellow metal that he would still have refused to give up the Golden Touch for so paltry a consideration as a breakfast. Just imagine what a price for one meal's victuals! It would have been the same as paying millions and millions of money (and as many millions more as would take forever to reckon up) for some fried trout, an egg, a potatoes a hot cake, and a cup of coffee.
"It would be quite too dear," thought Midas.
Nevertheless, so great was his hunger and the perplexity of his situation that he again groaned aloud, and very grievously, too. Our pretty Marygold could endure it no longer. She sat a moment gazing at her father and trying with all the might of her little wits to find out what was the matter with him. Then, with a sweet and sorrowful impulse to comfort him, she started from her chair, and, running to Midas, threw her arms affectionately about his knees. He bent down and kissed her. He felt that his little daughter's love was worth a thousand times more than he had gained by the Golden Touch.
"My precious, precious Marygold!" cried he.
But Marygold made no answer.
Alas, what had he done? How fatal was the gift which the stranger bestowed! The moment the lips of Midas touched Marygold's forehead a change had taken place. Her sweet, rosy face, so full of affection as it had been, assumed a glittering yellow color, with yellow tear-drops congealing on her cheeks. Her beautiful brown ringlets took the same tint. Her soft and tender little form grew hard and inflexible within her father's encircling arms. Oh, terrible misfortune! The victim of his insatiable desire for wealth, little Marygold was a human child no longer, but a golden statue!
Yes, there she was, with the questioning look of love, grief, and pity hardened into her face. It was the prettiest and most woeful sight that ever mortal saw. All the features and tokens of Marygold were there; even the beloved little dimple remained in her golden chin. But, the more perfect was this resemblance, the greater was the father's agony at beholding this golden image, which was all that was left him of a
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