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HOW THE AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM OF THE BLACK BROTHERS WAS INTERFERED

from Types Of Children's Literature - The King Of The Golden River; Or, The Black Brothers





In a secluded and mountainous part of Stiria there was in old
time a valley of the most surprising and luxuriant fertility. It was
surrounded on all sides by steep and rocky mountains, rising into
peaks which were always covered with snow, and from which a
number of torrents descended in constant cataracts. One of these
fell westward over the face of a crag so high, that, when the sun had
set to everything else, and all below was darkness, his beams still
shone full 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 descended on the other side of the
mountains, and wound away through broad plains and by populous
cities. But the clouds were drawn so constantly to the snowy hills,
and rested so softly in the circular hollow, that in time of drought
and heat, when all the country round was burnt up, there was still
rain in the little valley; and 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 a marvel to every one who
beheld it, and was commonly called the Treasure Valley.

The whole of this little valley belonged to three brothers called
Schwartz, Hans, and Gluck. Schwartz and Hans, the two elder
brothers, were very ugly men, with overhanging eyebrows and small
dull eyes, which were always half shut, so that you could not see
into _them_, and always fancied 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 pay for its eating. They
shot the blackbirds, because they pecked the fruit; and killed the
hedgehogs, lest they should suck the cows; they poisoned the crickets
for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and smothered the cicadas,
which used to sing all summer in the lime 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. It would have been very odd if with such a farm and
such a system of farming they hadn't got very rich; and very rich
they _did_ get. They generally contrived to keep their corn by them
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 in charity; they never
went to mass; grumbled perpetually at paying tithes; and were, in
a word, of so cruel and grinding a temper, as to receive from all those
with whom they had any dealings, the nickname of the "Black
Brothers."

The youngest brother, Gluck, was as completely opposed, in both
appearance and character, to his seniors as could possibly be
imagined or desired. He was not above twelve years old, fair, blue-eyed,
and kind in temper to every living thing. He did not, of
course, agree particularly well with his brothers, or rather, they
did not agree with _him_. He was usually appointed to the honorable
office of turnspit, when there was anything to roast, which was not
often; for, to do the brothers justice, they were hardly less sparing
upon themselves than upon other people. At other times he used
to clean the shoes, floors, and sometimes the plates, occasionally
getting what was left on them, by way of encouragement, and a
wholesome quantity of dry blows, by way of education.

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 an inundation; the vines were cut to pieces
with the hail; the corn was all killed by a black blight; only in
the Treasure Valley, as usual, 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
maledictions on the Black Brothers. They asked what they liked, and
got it, except from the poor people, who could only beg, and several
of whom were starved at their very door without the slightest regard
or notice.

It was drawing towards Winter, and very cold weather, when
one day the two elder brothers had gone out with their usual warning
to little Gluck, who was left to mind 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 or comfortable looking. 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 got 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 house door, yet
heavy and dull, as though the knocker had been tied up--more like
a puff than a knock.

"It must be the wind," said Gluck; "nobody else would venture to
knock double knocks at our door."

No; it wasn't the wind: there it came again very hard; and what
was particularly astounding, the knocker seemed to be in a hurry,
and not to be in the least afraid of the consequences. Gluck
went to the window, opened it, and put his head out to see who it
was.

It was the most extraordinary-looking little gentleman he had
ever seen in his life. He had a very large nose, slightly
brass-colored; his cheeks were very round and very red, and might have
warranted a supposition that he had been blowing a refractory fire
for the last eight-and-forty hours; his eyes twinkled merrily through
long silky eyelashes, his mustaches curled twice round like a corkscrew
on each side of his mouth, and his hair, of a curious mixed
pepper-and-salt-color, descended far over his shoulders. He was
about four-feet-six in height, and wore a conical pointed cap of nearly
the same altitude, decorated with a black feather some three feet
long. His doublet was prolonged behind into something resembling
a violent exaggeration of what is now termed a "swallowtail," but
was much obscured by the swelling folds of 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 clear out from the wearer's shoulders to about four times his own
length.

Gluck was so perfectly paralyzed by the singular appearance of
his visitor that he remained fixed without uttering a word, until the
old gentleman, having performed another and a more energetic concerto
on the knocker, 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."

To do the little gentleman justice, he _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 waistcoat 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, petulantly. "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 unpleasantly cold, and when he
turned and saw the beautiful fire rustling and roaring, and throwing
long, bright tongues up the chimney, as if it were licking its chops
at the savory smell of the leg of mutton, 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 on the hob, with the top of his cap accommodated 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 there, but
went on drip, drip, dripping among the cinders, and the fire fizzed,
and sputtered, and began to look very black and uncomfortable.
Never was such a cloak; every fold in it ran like a gutter.

"I beg pardon, sir," said Gluck at length, after watching the
water spreading in long, quicksilver-like streams over the floor for a
quarter of an hour; "mayn't 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, hesitatingly; "but--really,
sir,--you're--putting the fire out."

"It'll take longer to do the mutton, then," replied his visitor
dryly.

Gluck was very much puzzled by the behavior of his guest; it was
such a strange mixture of coolness and humility. He turned away
at the string meditatively 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 nor today. They surely couldn't miss a bit
from the knuckle!"

He spoke in so very melancholy a tone that it 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 tremendous rap at the door.
The old gentleman jumped off the hob, as if it had suddenly
become inconveniently warm. Gluck fitted the slice into the
mutton again, with desperate efforts at exactitude, and ran to open
the door.

"What did you keep us waiting in the rain for?" said Schwartz, as
he walked in, throwing his umbrella in Gluck's face. "Ay! what
for, indeed, you little vagabond?" said Hans, administering an
educational 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 with the utmost
possible velocity.

"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, deprecatingly, "he was so
_very_ wet!"

The rolling-pin was descending on Gluck's head; but at the instant
the old gentleman interposed his conical cap, on which it
crashed with a shock that shook the water out of it all over the room.
What was very odd, the rolling-pin no sooner touched the cap than
it flew out of Schwartz's hand, spinning like a straw in a high wind,
and fell into the corner at the farther end of the room.

"Who are you, sir?" demanded Schwartz, turning upon him.

"What's your business?" snarled Hans.

"I'm a poor old man, sir," the little gentleman began very
modestly, "and I saw your fire through the window, and 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.

"Ay!" said Hans, "there are enough of them to keep you warm.
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 red-nosed fellows as
you?"

"Why don't you sell your feather?" said Hans, sneeringly.
"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 after the rolling-pin, spinning round and round, till
he fell into the corner on the top of it. Then Schwartz was very
angry, and ran at the old gentleman to turn him out; but he also
had hardly touched him, when away he went after Hans and the
rolling-pin, and hit his head against the wall as he tumbled into the
corner. And so there they lay, all three.

Then the old gentleman spun himself round with velocity 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 (for it could not stand upright without going through the
ceiling), 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
a refusal of hospitality as I have just experienced, 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 wreath of 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 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, you know," 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."

Gluck left the room, melancholy enough. The brothers ate as
much mutton as they could, locked the rest into the cupboard, and
proceeded to get very drunk after dinner.

Such a night as it was! Howling wind, and rushing rain, without
intermission. The brothers had just sense enough left to put up
all the shutters, and double-bar 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 with a violence that shook the house 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 on their bolster, 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, spinning round, and bobbing
up and down like a cork, on which, as on a most luxurious
cushion, reclined the little old gentleman, cap and all. There
was plenty of room for it now, for the roof was off.

"Sorry to incommode you," said their visitor, ironically. "I'm
afraid your beds are dampish; perhaps you had better go to your
brother's room: I've left the ceiling on there."

They required no second admonition, but rushed into Gluck's
room, wet through, and in an agony 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 inundation had swept away trees,
crops, and cattle, and left in their stead a waste of red sand and
gray mud. The two brothers crept shivering and horror-struck into
the kitchen. The water had gutted 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:





Next: OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE THREE BROTHERS AFTER THE VISIT OF SOUTHWEST

Previous: BROWNIE AND THE COOK



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