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The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By Nathaniel Hawthorne


Once upon a time, there lived a very rich man, and a king

besides, whose name was Midas; and he had a little daughter, whom

nobody but myself ever heard of, and whose name I either never

knew, or have entirely forgotten. So, because I love odd names

for little girls, I choose to call her Marygold.

This King Midas was fonder of gold than of anything else in the

world. He valued his royal crown chiefly because it was composed

of that precious metal. If he loved anything better, or half so

well, it was the one little maiden who played so merrily around

her father's footstool. But the more Midas loved his daughter,

the more did he desire and seek for wealth. He thought, foolish

man! that the best thing he could possibly do for this dear child

would be to bequeath her the largest pile of glistening coin that

had ever been heaped together since the world was made.

Thus he gave all his thoughts and all his time to this one

purpose. If ever he happened to gaze for an instant at the

gold-tinted clouds of sunset, he wished that they were real gold,

and that they could be squeezed safely into his strong box. When

little Marygold ran to meet him, with a bunch of buttercups and

dandelions, he used to say, "Pooh, pooh, child! If these flowers

were as golden as they look, they would be worth the plucking!"

At length (as people always grow more and more foolish, unless

they take care to grow wiser and wiser) Midas had got to be so

exceedingly unreasonable, that he could scarcely bear to see or

touch any object that was not gold. He made it his custom,

therefore, to pass a large portion of every day in a dark and

dreary apartment, under ground, at the basement of his palace. It

was here that he kept his wealth. To this dismal hole--for it was

little better than a dungeon--Midas betook himself, whenever he

wanted to be particularly happy.

Here, after carefully locking the door, he would take a bag of

gold coin, or a gold cup as big as a washbowl, or a heavy golden

bar, or a peck measure of gold dust, and bring them from the

obscure corners of the room into the one bright and narrow

sunbeam that fell from the dungeonlike window. He valued the

sunbeam for no other reason but that his treasure would not shine

without its help.

And then would he reckon over the coins in the bag; toss up the

bar, and catch it as it came down; sift the gold dust through his

fingers;` look at the funny image of his own face, as reflected

in the burnished circumference of the cup; and whisper to

himself, "O Midas, rich King Midas, what a happy man art thou!"


Midas was enjoying himself in his treasure room, one day, as

usual, when he perceived a shadow fall over the heaps of gold;

and, looking up, he beheld the figure of a stranger, standing in

the bright and narrow sunbeam! It was a young man, with a

cheerful and ruddy face.

Whether it was that the imagination of King Midas threw a yellow

tinge over everything, or whatever the cause might be, he could

not help fancying that the smile with which the stranger regarded

him had a kind of golden brightness in it. Certainly, there was

now a brighter gleam upon all the piled-up treasures than before.

Even the remotest corners had their share of it, and were lighted

up, when the stranger smiled, as with tips of flame and sparkles of fire.

As Midas knew that he had carefully turned the key in the lock,

and that no mortal strength could possibly break into his

treasure room, he, of course, concluded that his visitor must be

something more than mortal.

Midas had met such beings before now, and was not sorry to meet

one of them again. The stranger's aspect, indeed, was so

good-humored and kindly, if not beneficent, that it would have

been unreasonable to suspect him of intending any mischief. It

was far more probable that he came to do Midas a favor. And what

could that favor be, unless to multiply his heaps of treasure?

The stranger gazed about the room; and, when his lustrous smile

had glistened upon all the golden objects that were there, he

turned again to Midas.

"You are a wealthy man, friend Midas!" he observed. "I doubt

whether any other four walls on earth contain so much gold as you

have contrived to pile up in this room."

"I have done pretty well,--pretty well," answered Midas, in a

discontented tone. "But, after all, it is but a trifle, when you

consider that it has taken me my whole lifetime to get it

together. If one could live a thousand years, he might have time

to grow rich!"

"What!" exclaimed the stranger. "Then you are not satisfied?"

Midas shook his head.

"And pray, what would satisfy you?" asked the stranger. "Merely

for the curiosity of the thing, I should be glad to know."

Why did the stranger ask this question? Did he have it in his

power to gratify the king's wishes? It was an odd question, to

say the least.


Midas paused and meditated. He felt sure that this stranger, with

such a golden luster in his good-humored smile, had come hither

with both the power and the purpose of gratifying his utmost

wishes. Now, therefore, was the fortunate moment, when he had but

to speak, and obtain whatever possible, or seemingly impossible

thing, it might come into his head to ask. So he thought, and

thought, and thought, and heaped up one golden mountain upon

another, in his imagination, without being able to imagine them big enough.

At last a bright idea occurred to King Midas.

Raising his head, he looked the lustrous stranger in the face.

"Well, Midas," observed his visitor, "I see that you have at

length hit upon something that will satisfy you. Tell me your wish."

"It is only this," replied Midas. "I am weary of collecting my

treasures with so much trouble, and beholding the heap so

diminutive, after I have done my best. I wish everything that I

touch to be changed to gold!"

The stranger's smile grew so bright and radiant, that it seemed

to fill the room like an outburst of the sun, gleaming into a

shadowy dell, where the yellow autumnal leaves--for so looked the

lumps and particles of gold--lie strewn in the glow of light.

"The Golden Touch!" exclaimed he. "You certainly deserve credit,

friend Midas, for striking out so brilliant a fancy. But are you

quite sure that this will satisfy you?"

"How could it fail?" said Midas.

"And will you never regret the possession of it?"

"What could induce me?" asked Midas. "I ask nothing else, to

render me perfectly happy."

"Be it as you wish, then," replied the stranger, waving his hand

in token of farewell. "To-morrow, at sunrise, you will find

yourself gifted with the Golden Touch."

The figure of the stranger then became exceedingly bright, and

Midas involuntarily closed his eyes. On opening them again, he

beheld only one yellow sunbeam in the room, and, all around him,

the glistening of the precious metal which he had spent his

life in hoarding up.


Whether Midas slept as usual that night, the story does not say.

But when the earliest sunbeam shone through the window, and

gilded the ceiling over his head, it seemed to him that this

bright yellow sunbeam was reflected in rather a singular way on

the white covering of the bed. Looking more closely, what was his

astonishment and delight, when he found that this linen fabric

had been transmuted to what seemed a woven texture of the purest

and brightest gold! The Golden Touch had come to him with the

first sunbeam!

Midas started up, in a kind of joyful frenzy, and ran about the

room, grasping at everything that happened to be in his way. He

seized one of the bedposts, and it became immediately a fluted

golden pillar. He pulled aside a window curtain in order to admit

a clear spectacle of the wonders which he was performing, and the

tassel grew heavy in his hand, a mass of gold. He took up a book

from the table; at his first touch, it assumed the appearance of

such a splendidly bound and gilt-edged volume as one often meets

with nowadays; but on running his fingers through the leaves,

behold! it was a bundle of thin golden plates, in which all the

wisdom of the book had grown illegible.

He hurriedly put on his clothes, and was enraptured to see

himself in a magnificent suit of gold cloth, which retained its

flexibility and softness, although it burdened him a little with

its weight. He drew out his handkerchief, which little Marygold

had hemmed for him; that was likewise gold, with the dear child's

neat and pretty stitches running all along the border, in gold thread!

Somehow or other, this last transformation did not quite please

King Midas. He would rather that his little daughter's handiwork

should have remained just the same as when she climbed his knee

and put it into his hand.

But it was not worth while to vex himself about a trifle. Midas

took his spectacles from his pocket, and put them on his nose, in

order that he might see more distinctly what he was about. In

those days, spectacles for common people had not been invented,

but were already worn by kings; else, how could Midas have had

any? To his great perplexity; however, excellent as the glasses

were, he discovered that he could not possibly see through them.

But this was the most natural thing in the world; for, on taking

them off, the transparent crystals turned out to be plates of

yellow metal, and, of course, were worthless as spectacles,

though valuable as gold. It struck Midas as rather inconvenient,

that, with all his wealth, he could never again be rich enough to

own a pair of serviceable spectacles.

"It is no great matter, nevertheless," said he to himself, very

philosophically. "We cannot expect any great good, without its

being accompanied with some small inconvenience. The Golden Touch

is worth the sacrifice of a pair of spectacles at least, if

not of one's very eyesight. My own eyes will serve for ordinary

purposes, and little Marygold will soon be old enough to read to me."


Wise King Midas was so exalted by his good fortune, that the

palace seemed not sufficiently spacious to contain him. He

therefore went downstairs, and smiled on observing that the

balustrade of the staircase became a bar of burnished gold, as

his hand passed over it, in his descent. He lifted the door-latch

(it was brass only a moment ago, but golden when his fingers

quitted it), and emerged into the garden. Here, as it happened,

he found a great number of beautiful roses in full bloom, and

others in all the stages of lovely bud and blossom. Very

delicious was their fragrance in the morning breeze. Their

delicate blush was one of the fairest sights in the world; so

gentle, so modest, and so full of sweet soothing, 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 untiringly; 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 knowledge, 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.

Little Marygold had not yet made her appearance. Her father

ordered her to be called, and seating himself at 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 passage, crying bitterly. This circumstance

surprised him, because Marygold was one of the most cheerful

little people whom you would see in a summer's day, and hardly

shed a tear 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 changed it into gleaming gold.

Meanwhile, Marygold slowly and sadly 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. "Pray, what is the matter

with you, this bright 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

changed into gold.

"Beautiful!" exclaimed her father. "And what is there in this

magnificent golden rose to make you cry?"

"Ah, dear father!" answered the child, between her sobs, "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 sad thing! All the beautiful

roses, that smelled so sweetly, and had so many lovely blushes,

are blighted and spoilt! They are grown quite yellow, as you see

this one, and have no longer any fragrance! What can have been

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 blighted roses that she did not even notice the

wonderful change in 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 outside of the bowl; and those 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 golden 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. "Take your milk before it

gets quite cold."

He took one of the nice little trots on his plate, and touched

its tail with his finger. To his horror, it was immediately

changed from a brook trout into a gold 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.

"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. 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

that of the trout and the cake.

"Well, this is terrible!" 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 burnt 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 burnt your mouth?"

"Ah, dear child," groaned Midas, dolefully, "I don't know what is

to become of your poor father!"

And, truly, 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 for some fried

trout, an egg, a potato, a hot cake, and a cup of coffee!

"It would be much 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 King Midas done? How fatal was the gift which the

stranger had 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. O 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 the resemblance, the

greater was the father's agony at beholding this golden image,

which was all that was left him of a daughter.

It had been a favorite phrase of Midas, whenever he felt

particularly fond of the child, to say that she was worth her

weight in gold. And now the phrase had become literally true.

And, now, at last, when it was too late, he felt how infinitely a

warm and tender heart, that loved him, exceeded in value all the

wealth that could be piled up betwixt the earth and sky!

It would be too sad a story, if I were to tell you how Midas, in

the fullness of all his gratified desires, began to wring his

hands and bemoan himself; and how he could neither bear to look

at Marygold, nor yet to look away from her. Except when his eyes

were fixed on the image, he could not possibly believe that she

was changed to gold. But, stealing another glance, there was the

precious little figure, with a yellow tear-drop on its yellow

cheek, and a look so piteous and tender, that it seemed as if

that very expression must needs soften the gold, and make it

flesh again. This, however, could not be. So Midas had only to

wring his hands, and to wish that he were the poorest man in the

wide world, if the loss of all his wealth might bring back the

faintest rose-color to his dear child's face.


While he was in this tumult of despair, he suddenly beheld a

stranger, standing near the door. Midas bent down his head,

without speaking; for he recognized the same figure which had

appeared to him the day before in the treasure room, and had

bestowed on him this disastrous power of the Golden Touch. The

stranger's countenance still wore a smile, which seemed to shed a

yellow luster all about the room, and gleamed on little

Marygold's image, and on the other objects that had been

transmuted by the touch of Midas.

"Well, friend Midas," said the stranger, "pray, how do you

succeed with the Golden Touch?"

Midas shook his head.

"I am very miserable," said he.

"Very miserable! indeed!" exclaimed the stranger; "and how

happens that? Have I not faithfully kept my promise with you?

Have you not everything that your heart desired?"

"Gold is not everything," answered Midas. "And I have lost all

that my heart really cared for."

"Ah! So you have made a discovery, since yesterday?" observed the

stranger. "Let us see, then. Which of these two things do you

think is really worth the most,--the gift of the Golden Touch, or

one cup of clear cold water?"

"O blessed water!" exclaimed Midas. "It will never moisten my

parched throat again!"

"The Golden Touch," continued the stranger, "or a crust of bread?"

"A piece of bread," answered Midas, "is worth all the gold on earth!"

"The Golden Touch," asked the stranger, "or your own little

Marygold, warm, soft, and loving, as she was an hour ago?"

"O my child, my dear child!" cried poor King Midas, wringing his

hands. "I would not have given that one small dimple in her chin

for the power of changing this whole big earth into a solid lump of gold!"

"You are wiser than you were, King Midas?" said the stranger,

looking seriously at him. "Your own heart, I perceive, has not

been entirely changed from flesh to gold. Were it so, your case

would indeed be desperate. But you appear to be still capable of

understanding that the commonest things, such as lie within

everybody's grasp, are more valuable than the riches which so

many mortals sigh and struggle after. Tell me, now, do you

sincerely desire to rid yourself of this Golden Touch?"

"It is hateful to me!" replied Midas.

A fly settled on his nose, but immediately fell to the floor; for

it, too, had become gold. Midas shuddered.

"Go, then," said the stranger, "and plunge into the river that

glides past the bottom of your garden. Take likewise a vase of

the same water, and sprinkle it over any object that you may

desire to change back again from gold into its former substance.

If you do this in earnestness and sincerity, it may possibly

repair the mischief which your avarice has occasioned."

King Midas bowed low; and when he lifted his head, the lustrous

stranger had vanished.


You will easily believe that Midas lost no time in snatching up a

great earthen pitcher (but, alas me! it was no longer earthen

after he touched it), and in hastening to the riverside. As he

ran along, and forced his way through the shrubbery, it was

positively marvelous to see how the foliage turned yellow behind

him, as if the autumn had been there, and nowhere else. On

reaching the river's brink, he plunged headlong in, without

waiting so much as to pull off his shoes.

"Poof! poof! poof!" gasped King Midas, as his head emerged out of

the water. "Well; this is really a refreshing bath, and I think

it must have quite washed away the Golden Touch. And now for

filling my pitcher!"

As he dipped the pitcher into the water, it gladdened his very

heart to see it change from gold into the same good, honest,

earthen vessel which it had been before he touched it. He was

conscious, also, of a change within himself. A cold, hard, and

heavy weight seemed to have gone out of his bosom. No doubt his

heart had been gradually losing its human substance, and been

changing into insensible metal, but had now been softened back

again into flesh. Perceiving a violet, that grew on the bank of

the river, Midas touched it with his finger, and was overjoyed to

find that the delicate flower retained its purple hue, instead of

undergoing a yellow blight. The curse of the Golden Touch had,

therefore, really been removed from him.


King Midas hastened back to the palace; and, I suppose, the

servants knew not what to make of it when they saw their royal

master so carefully bringing home an earthen pitcher of water.

But that water, which was to undo all the mischief that his

folly had wrought, was more precious to Midas than an ocean of

molten gold could have been. The first thing he did, as you need

hardly be told, was to sprinkle it by handfuls over the golden

figure of little Marygold.

No sooner did it fall on her than you would have laughed to see

how the rosy color came back to the dear child's cheek!--and how

astonished she was to find herself dripping wet, and her father

still throwing more water over her!

"Pray do not, dear father!" cried she. "See how you have wet my

nice frock, which I put on only this morning!"

For Marygold did not know that she had been a little golden

statue; nor could she remember anything that had happened since

the moment when she ran with outstretched arms to comfort her father.

Her father did not think it necessary to tell his beloved child

how very foolish he had been, but contented himself with showing

how much wiser he had now grown. For this purpose, he led little

Marygold into the garden, where he sprinkled all the remainder of

the water over the rosebushes, and with such good effect that

above five thousand roses recovered their beautiful bloom. There

were two circumstances, however, which, as long as he lived, used

to remind King Midas of the Golden Touch. One was, that the sands

of the river in which he had bathed, sparkled like gold; the

other, that little Marygold's hair had now a golden tinge, which

he had never observed in it before she had been changed by the

effect of his kiss. This change of hue was really an improvement,

and made Marygold's hair richer than in her babyhood.

When King Midas had grown quite an old man, and used to take

Marygold's children on his knee, he was fond of telling them this

marvelous story. And then would he stroke their glossy ringlets,

and tell them that their hair, likewise, had a rich shade of

gold, which they had inherited from their mother.

"And, to tell you the truth, my precious little folks," said King

Midas, "ever since that morning, I have hated the very sight of

all other gold, save this!"

--From "A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls."



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