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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 faculty 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?"
"Oh, 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?"
"Oh, my child, my dear child!" cried poor 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 hastening to the riverside. As he scampered 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!" snorted King Midas, as his head emerged out of the water. "Well, this is really a refreshing bath, and I think it must have 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 transmuting itself into insensible metal, but had now 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 she began to sneeze and sputter, 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 poor King Midas.
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 rose-bushes, 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 put King Midas in mind of the Golden Touch.
One was that the sands of the river 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 transmuted by the effetet of